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Increase Organizational Resilience and Innovation Through Collaboration

It’s times of stress that really test the strength or weakness of an organization. During stressful times, leaders learn what the people in their organizations are made of – but also whether the systems, functions, and processes they have put in place are resilient to withstand the crises that inevitably come up. Industry shifts, market downturns, unexpected competitors: when stress comes, it shouldn’t make an organization or process fall to pieces. Instead, stressful times should be when positive discourse, growth, and resiliency thrive.[1]

“What do you do when you face a surprise?” David Woods, Faculty Emeritus of Integrated Systems Engineering at The Ohio State University, asked at the 2014 Velocity NY conference; referring to unexpected situations like when chunks of foam fell off the Space Shuttle Columbia’s fuel tank in an unexpected way. “Do you gracefully extend performance, stretch your capabilities, and add adaptive capacity in order to continue to perform effectively?”

There are two sides to this question. First, the challenge of resilience: how do organizations avoid failure when they are surprised by events? But the second challenge is equally important: innovation. “When surprise happens, organizations need to adapt faster, otherwise…you can’t keep pace,” Woods said. “You can’t make decisions and deploy them to effect fast enough to keep up with change in the world.”

In fact, resilient organizations and innovative organizations share essential core competencies. “Being able to anticipate, being able to proactively learn,” Woods continues. “Proactive learning means you don’t wait for the big signal, the major event to occur that says ‘hey! Learn! Change! Revise everything! A big thing happened!’ Because if you wait for a big thing to happen, it’s usually bad.”

Resiliency – the ability to weather change and bounce back from failure – is an essential mindset for modern business. Industry leaders regularly describe resilience as a cornerstone to innovation, frequently citing Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

Now more than ever, resilience is an essential survival skill. Organizations will need to increase their capacity for resilience moving forward in uncertain and perturbed ecosystems. One way to allow for that is to actually increase organizational exposure to the possibility of failure. Failure is an essential part of the innovation process, so embrace it – but be smart about it. Learn as much from failure as quickly as possible.

If innovators are constantly worried about what will happen if they fail, they’re likely to have one of two responses. First, they may keep their creative solutions to themselves because they are worried about the potential cost of failure. Second, many innovators may attempt to hide failure or potential failure, rather than discussing the problems they’re having. Neither of these responses is conducive to a strong, resilient organization.

One way to improve organizational resilience is to reinforce one of Morieux and Tollman’s “Six Simple Rules”[2]: don’t punish failure – punish the failure to cooperate. “If people are afraid to fail, they will hide problems from you and your peers. Reward people who surface problems—and correct those who don’t collaborate to help solve them.”[3] Teams of individuals working together can often overcome potential problems long before they become larger issues. And a collaborative team atmosphere is more able to embrace failure and treat it as a learning opportunity than one in which individuals struggle and are held accountable for their own failures alone.

Discussing challenges with people from different teams, backgrounds, and industries gives a fresh perspective. This can be incredibly valuable when an internally-focused innovation team is not able to generate an outcome as desired. Often, breakthroughs are a result of co-creating and merging ideas and concepts. Building a strong network of innovation partners is an effective strategy in co-creating solutions and exploring new opportunities. Sometimes, relying on external service providers, who are often specialized in specific tools or processes, can be of value.

Whether your organization is committed to a fully self-sufficient innovation model, exclusively managing an outsourced innovation organization or some blended model of the two, consider the collaboration models that will best enable your organization’s resiliency. You can think of these collaboration models in the following ways:

  • DIFM – Do It For Me
    • For areas completely outside our internal areas of expertise or for sensitive areas which require anonymity, identify the appropriate innovation partners to progress your initiatives outside your organizational constraints
  • DIWM – Do It With Me
    • Identify innovation partners who share your organizational competencies and can complement/augment your internal resources. Seek synergies to not only increase your organizational innovation bandwidth but also to broaden your internal innovation resource capabilities through acquired knowledge
  • DIY – Do It Yourself
    • Full-blown internal capability – from capturing organizational needs to preparing technical briefs, identifying appropriate innovation partners, establishing working partnerships to bring solutions to unmet needs to the marketplace.


These are stressful business times, and organizations are facing more unique challenges than ever to continue to deliver against their customer’s and consumer’s unmet needs. Brittle organizations that have always focused inwardly for innovation may find that the disruptions they are facing are too great to bear. In contrast, resilient organizations that have built strong collaborative innovation ecosystems may find that this is a time of more incredible opportunity than expected.

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