From product development to accounting to marketing, we all need outside partners in disciplines where we are not experts. But more than that, we need skilled partners who understand the difference between following the leaders and charting new ground.
Few companies are innovative solely on their own with the existing talent and resources within their own walls. This isn’t to slight any organization trying to move the needle, but rather a reality that most companies are facing. Think about your company for a moment and surely there are areas of strength and competitive advantage. Likewise, there are areas of weakness and disadvantage for a company, areas where the company needs help to achieve its goals.
When it comes to innovation, we need people who are more than just serviceable. We need experienced innovation partners – people who know how to discern what this process involves and looks like in the end.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT
What qualifications must a partner possess to help your company innovate and differentiate you from the crowd? Your potential innovation partner should have the following:
- A track record of proven innovative solutions. If they aren’t offered automatically, ask for prior references and outcomes of the work they have done for others.
- Specific skillsets that your company is lacking. This can range from technical expertise such as software architecture or development, or it could be strategic leadership in human-centered design or front-end innovation. Recognize what’s missing or underrepresented within the walls of your organization and ensure your partner fills that void.
- Experience within your industry and/or among similar product applications. Ask how learnings with others will help inform your work. Asking about a potential partner’s previous experience and its relevance to your challenge is a good starting point, but you should probe beyond the performance of similar work or applying understood applications in your field. Find out what they’ve discovered and applied that was unexpected – in your field as well as with clients whose work is unrelated to yours. Understanding as much as you can about what partners do well does matter, but also understand how they solve problems when best laid plans falter and challenges emerge.
WHAT IS ESSENTIAL
As the “important” boxes are checked, most companies conclude their due diligence and move forward. However, that could prove to be a costly mistake if there is failure to overlook one non-negotiable, must-have principle of the partnership: shared values and culture.
Values and culture play a driving role in decision making and should complement hard skillsets such as design or engineering. For example, Lutron, a global leader in lighting solutions, didn’t seek us out for a project. Rather they saw that our IoT firm had built, from scratch, an innovative outdoor lighting system called Limelight that could integrate seamlessly with their indoor lighting solutions. They began working with us and integrated Limelight across their own campus, and saw many new business opportunities because of this new addition to their portfolio. Convinced of its fit with their existing offerings, our partnership evolved into something we didn’t see coming – the acquisition of the Limelight business.
“The Limelight acquisition is a prime example of how Lutron establishes relationships with other companies,” said Scott Hanna, Senior Vice President, Lutron. “And like Lutron, Twisthink believes in customer-centric design, a relentless focus on innovation, and high levels of quality and design.”
Truth is, quality can be found in many prospective partners, but they won’t be able to provide that quality if they are unable to live out what’s essential – sharing a common set of values and fitting well with our culture.
CAPABILITY WILL ONLY TAKE YOU SO FAR
Capability checks that first box of what’s required. But shared values is the differentiator and will be the reason for partnership alignment and success. Without insisting alignment on what you value and the way your culture operates, tension will exist, fit will be compromised, and true innovation will suffer. Conversely, when values, culture and capability are in lockstep, the potential can be surprisingly limitless.
There’s a word for the capable but culturally deficient – and that word is vendor. It is best to seek out a partner who gets you, the way you work, where you want go, and who will have your back throughout the innovation journey.