Fresh and Hot: Coffee and Co-Innovation

Posted By: Michael Burke Member Resources, Virtual Programs,

It may not be news to everyone—but did you know that ASAP has a diverse array of virtual programming? It’s not hyperbole to say there’s probably something for everyone.

Cases in point: ASAP Webinars are just what they sound like—a webinar with an interactive Q&A period at the end. The ASAP Roundtables are virtual roundtable discussions of a selected topic. Mug & Mingle? Networking and connecting, catching up with your peers and pals as you start your day over your favorite brew. Collaborative Connection Monthly, meanwhile, is part fireside chat, part roundtable, with a guest speaker focusing on a particular subject each month.

And then there’s the ASAP Coffee Chats, presented by our friends at Vantage Partners. These are another fun and fascinating hybrid: part presentation, part roundtable. Dropping in on a recent one, “Successful Co-Innovation with Partners” (Feb. 7), was a real education in what ASAP members are currently finding top of mind about innovation-oriented partnerships—including both the friendly tailwinds that help co-innovation efforts make way as well as the very real headwinds that can blow them back into port.

Benefits and Barriers

Hosted by Jessica Wadd, partner, and John Barbadoro, senior consultant, Vantage Partners, the most recent ASAP Coffee Chat presented some findings and analysis courtesy of Vantage research, and gave participants a chance to weigh in on their own (and their organizations’) struggles co-innovating with their partners.

Wadd and Barbadoro kicked things off by identifying three different types of innovation:

  • Product—a totally new thing, or an existing product with a whole new set of features designed to meet changing customer needs (the iPhone and iTunes, say)
  • Business Process—the way in which work gets done (example: Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line)
  • Business Model—changes in how companies deliver value to their customers and/or generate profits (examples might include Uber, DoorDash, and Facebook)

 Barbadoro mentioned the good and the bad of co-innovation, noting “how positive the market is on external innovation. Folks doing it are receiving a lot of benefit. But there’s still a lot of barriers.”

Indeed. Some of those “enemies of co-innovation” include:

  • Arrogance—the feeling among some organizations that “there’s no need to change what we’re doing”
  • Fear—the sense that “it’s just too risky”
  • Insularity—“we already know what we need to know”
  • Complacency—“maybe we’ll do it later”

The Cutting Edge Cuts Both Ways

These internal barriers to successful co-innovation with partners also include what one participant termed the “perceived insult” that external innovation may represent within an organization. In other words, “when something cutting-edge is coming in, the message is, your people don’t have the capabilities to move it forward.”

Of course, the not-invented-here syndrome can also rear its ugly head. “The fear very much comes into play,” one attendee said. “This is how we do it—this is our process.” Another mentioned one more prevalent internal attitude: “If it were that great, I would have figured it out myself.”

Sometimes with the best intentions, companies are simply too slow and not nimble enough in their processes. They may be seriously considering co-innovation, but by the time their due diligence is complete, too much time has elapsed and the opportunity slips away. And while cautious companies dither, their more savvy, risk-taking competitors aren’t standing still, and may swoop in where others fear to tread.

Make Good Choices

Other organizations may see external innovation as part of a black-and-white, binary decision: either “continue what I’m doing or make this choice,” as a participant put it. Larger organizations may also have a culture that resists external innovation and pressures employees to “get everything in-house.” Likewise, there can be what one participant called “a fixation on IP”: what’s ours, yours, etc. The lack of focus on a bigger picture can thus prove “stifling.”

Wadd recommended that organizations facing these kinds of challenges and striving to remain competitive create a decision tree, asking questions like:

  • What are we trying to do?
  • Can we do it ourselves? How?
  • Should we do it through co-innovation? How?
  • What other options are there?

She also noted some of the “friends” of co-innovation—attitudes that help external innovation efforts along:

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Courage
  • Collaborative mindset

Talk Is Cheap; So Are Ideas

Wadd and Barbadoro also presented a slide breaking down the “Innovation Life Cycle,” which consisted of a sort of continuum of stages in innovation:

  • Discovery (explore)
  • Ideation (brainstorm)
  • Experimentation (test)
  • Adoption (implement)
  • Evolution (refine)

Participants were asked in a real-time survey which parts of this Innovation Life Cycle their companies did better on and where they underperformed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most said their companies did better on the first three—Discovery, Ideation, and Experimentation—and worse on actual Adoption and Evolution.

Explore, brainstorm, test? Sure, no problem. Actually implement and then continually iterate and refine? Not so much. Or as one attendee put it: “Ideas are cheap. It’s harder to deliver.”

Return on Co-Innovation? It’s a Mindset

Finally, Wadd and Barbadoro set forth some mindsets that support joint value creation and co-innovation:

  • Put customers first
  • Embrace ambiguity
  • Embrace differences
  • Fail and learn
  • Practice optimism
  • Exude creative confidence

They also noted one interesting paradox found in their research: companies that are more risk-averse often practice more external innovation. Perhaps this is because they improve their process of making better decisions and placing better bets (as in the decision tree process), or they’re encouraging making “good mistakes” rather than bad ones (fail and learn), or perhaps they’ve simply done a better job of sharing risks and rewards with their partners.

Whatever the reason, Wadd and Barbadoro made a strong case that putting these more positive, optimistic mindsets to work within organizations should ultimately lead to better co-innovation efforts and increase the chances of joint success.

Looking to increase your chances of collaborative success? Join your peers, partners, and colleagues and get on board the next ASAP virtual program before the train leaves the station. Go to for more information.