Skip to Content

Innovation Networks Do Matter!

network1 .jpgI have always been fascinated by the way in which fundamental cognitive patterns in our minds are capable of shaping our world.

Take networks, for example; they are everywhere – in telecommunications, energy distribution, transportation systems, supply chains, and social relationships. Today, in this hyper-connected world, business networks are playing indeed a crucial economical role.

Over the last four years, I’ve worked with Global Services Innovation, a multidisciplinary team that searches for groundbreaking topics and incubates high-value service-related opportunities. This has gotten me closer to the topic of innovation practice and management. We frequently speak with customers and they often confirm that it is essential to look at business innovation from an outside-in perspective. This encouraged us as a team to explore how to serve the need of a systematic business innovation management approach at large.

I took on the task of identifying fundamental perspectives that could reveal unifying ideas for a multifaceted variety of practices and concepts related to innovation management in established companies. As I delved into this, I could not help but consider the cognitive patterns of the mind that have long fascinated me.

When you consider networks, for instance, you realize that individuals, teams, organizations, and business networks form at different scale a continuum. Internally, companies are expected to develop an innovation-oriented culture, appropriate profiles, leadership styles, and effective approaches to enable employees to innovate.

At the same time, organizations are expected to open their innovation channels to the external world, build an appropriate company-specific innovation network with customers, partners, consultants, universities, institutes, etc. SAP, for example, over the years established quite an articulated innovation network that includes SAP Community Network, SAP University Alliances, SAP Living Labs, SAP Partner Ecosystem, and more.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/network2_430590.pngCreating connections with stakeholders and embracing local and global innovation systems is increasingly important for companies to grow and flourish. Consequently, the topology of a company’s innovation network evolves as it allocates appropriate interface resources and starts managing the lifecycle of relationships within and outside the boundaries of the organization.

What is the conceptual consequence? Well, innovation networks represent a pattern that can substantially merge behavioral theories of innovation, which look more inwards at how people interact in the innovation process, with open and distributed innovation at large. The practical consequence? We can design innovation networks.

Thus, innovation networks do matter, do you agree? That is another confirmation of the power of the cognitive patterns dwelling in our mind (by the way, our brain is a network of neurons, isn’t it?).

Innovation networks are a dimension of the Innovation Management Framework, that is described in a book I authored. It has been recently published as a result of an effort aimed at articulating innovation management as a structured, comprehensive, and consistent set of concepts and practices. Design Thinking is one of the key elements in the framework: not only as a method and mindset, but also because it can play a special role. And here is why: leveraging the framework you can design innovation practices as you design solutions, processes and business models.

It is now time to go. It would be great if you could share comments and examples of innovation networks from your company.

I’ll tell you about another cognitive pattern and its role in looking at fundamental perspectives on innovation management in the next blog. Stay tuned.

About the author:

Marco Cigaina is Program Manager in SAP Services Innovation. He focuses on service innovation research, innovation management, and integration of stakeholders in the innovation process. Marco Cigaina holds a bachelor of engineering with concentrations on enterprise information systems. His professional experience includes technology and business intelligence consulting, enterprise architecture, and program management for strategic initiatives.

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
  • Social networks are indeed critical for innovation, and often help get around stale organisational structures that are not optimised for innovation. A key feature of successful networks for innovation, in my view, is that they span both breadth-wise (typically addressing more than feasibility but also viability and feasibility) and also depth-wise, connecting grassroots innovations with managers and key stakeholders who have the power to give the idea wings. Both aspects are essential.

    • Thanks Julien for your comment. I agree on your consideration that successful networks for innovation span both breadth-wise and depth-wise. The intersection of social networks and innovation management is a very interesting topic.

  • Dear Marco,

    you are spot-on, when pointing to the importance of networking for the real new.

    The spirit of innovation apparently thrives in a group – or “network” as we call it these days – and not in the ivory towers of ruminating nerds. The heroic tales of individual inventors with global visions are something of an exception along the path to what is truly new. Innovations that have prevailed have been mainly created in a trial-and-error mode by an more or less anonymous crowd and not designed upfront by a genius.

    Innovators of all organizations – network!

  • Hello Marco,

    I could not agree more and certainly could not have put it any better.

    Especially your conclusion that “We can design networks” is of special importance. The term design implies that the patterns in the network are conciously chosen for a specific reason and with a specific purpose in mind. When you fill these patterns with people, the most interesting and surprising things will happen.

  • A network (teams, organization and business networks)  is a cognitive system that doesn’t contain knowledge, but represents the knowledge as information that you could apply dinamically at the system.
    But, if you drive the knowledge for a goal it could be useful for the innovation. The aim is to create this approach as volunteer action.
    This intensity of a volunteer action contibutes directly to the innovation speed.
    So, I like very much the idea of the innovation network but consider that, from my point of view, is important to work on the passions too. The framework only is not enough.

    I like very much your book and your job. Is visible your “passion” for it  … maybe is there some relationship between passion, innovation and quality?  🙂


    • nicely put LEONARDO FROIO it’s the passion that motivates people to not only be a networker but also to be a connector. No network works without connectors.

      What’s one driver behind the passion? I believe our ability to empathize – feeling the joy and the pain when exposed to a situation and then wanting to engage to fix, enhance or improve.

    • Many thanks, Leonardo! I see what you mean reminding the importance of passion, even more relevant as it propagates to others!