Innovation by Collaboration

People collaborate to innovate. But what about the other way around? Could a structured innovation approach be used to bring people closer together? In other words, collaboration becomes the endpoint and innovation becomes the means to that end?

Collaboration is where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals. Collaboration is seen as an essential element of change and group effectiveness. People collaborate for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Solving a common problem
  • Seizing an opportunity
  • Sharing information
  • Research
  • Development
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Funding
  • Establishing trust
  • Reducing cost
  • Improving a process

A lot of methods and tools have been developed to help teams collaborate. But these methods tend to lead people to the traditional ways of thinking about collaboration: shared resources and information, trade out of expertise, or solving common problems.

For a more innovation approach, here is a structured approach using Systematic Inventive Thinking. Start by listing components of the collaborators (their resources, departments, assets… all the basic building blocks that make up each collaborator).

Then apply one of the five templates of innovation to the component list. Use FUNCTION-FOLLOWS-FORM to create a Virtual Product – a hypothetical solution to a yet-to-be-found problem. Work backwards to identify the problem that your “solution” solves. How does it involve each party of the collaboration? How do each of the parties benefit?

Here is an example. Imagine two departments of a university have been asked by the Administration to become more “collaborative” to enhance student learning. Here is a suggested component list for this example:

  1. Faculty
  2. Courses
  3. Clients
  4. Students
  5. Training material
  6. Classrooms
  7. Administration
  8. Brand reputation
  9. Processes

Use a template like Multiplication: take an existing resource and make a copy of it, but change the component is some way. What would be the benefit to the collaboration at hand?

Then switch to another template such as Task Unification: take a component and assign it an additional task. What task could the component perform that enhances student learning (in a completely different way or in a way that benefits the other party)? Continue through each of the templates to uncover new and surprising ways to work together.

Collaboration is an enabler of innovation. Now make innovation an enabler of collaboration.

Drew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

Drew Boyd




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