You could say that innovation and collaboration go together like … well, like Batman and Robin. And just like that dynamic duo, there’s good reason to believe that innovation and collaboration are more powerful together.
According to author and educator Kate Vitasek, research from the University of Tennessee shows that innovation and collaboration actually “feed and build” upon each other.
It’s an effective partnership that she believes today’s leaders and business executives should take greater advantage of.
“Innovation happens through collaboration,” Vitasek wrote in Forbes. “And the best organizations are not only harnessing innovation from their employees, but also from outsiders such as suppliers or competitors.”
Agreed; and by way of example, I would suggest adding Porsche AG to Vitasek’s list of best organizations and counting university students among Porsche’s cast of collaborators.
Smart mobility is real-world challenge
Recently, 32 engineering students from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) partnered with the iconic car maker on a project called “Smart Mobility.” Porsche challenged the students to innovate around new features that support the growing trend toward more connected cars.
This exercise in collaborative innovation took place during the school’s summer session as part of KIT’s ProVIL internship program. ProVIL, which stands for “product development in the virtual ideas labs,” is designed to help future engineers make the critical and necessary jump from academic theory to practical application.
“It’s very important for students to apply what they’ve learned in their lectures to practical, real-life tasks,” said Albert Albers, a KIT professor. “ProVIL offers them this practical focus.”
Creativity in a virtual setting
Eight student teams worked independently on various product concepts. Each was supported by a network of academic advisers, Porsche employees, and innovation coaches from the University of Applied Science Karlsruhe.
At the heart of this collaborative environment was a virtual ideas platform based on innovation management software that helps foster innovation, capture it, and rapidly convert ideas into value-generating initiatives.
The platform provided a central hub where all the participants could connect with each other via the Internet to collaborate on developing their specific proposals. This virtual laboratory was used for every phase of a co-creation process that included conducting research, discussing ideas, maintaining research profiles, and developing concept mock-ups.
The teams developed dozens of ideas as a result of their collaboration; ultimately, the eight best were presented at a final event held at KIT.
“The students came up with some really impressive product concepts during the project,” remarked Benjamin Walter, project lead for ProVIL at KIT.
This included ideas about connecting cars to smartphones and new features for the “infotainment” centers that now integrate many cars’ audio, navigation, and communication systems.
A natural partnership
This particular confluence of academia and industry really shouldn’t surprise anyone.
KIT is one of the largest research and education institutions in Germany. The school attracts top engineering students from around the world, and its alumni include a who’s who list of inventors. Likewise, Porsche automobiles have been renowned for engineering excellence for more than 60 years.
So will some of the ideas developed as part of the Smart Mobility project become standard features of a future Porsche 911? Only time will tell.
But this much is certain, the project demonstrates the growing value that many companies are placing on creating environments that encourage and support collaborative innovation.
As Vitasek noted in her article, “… today’s business models are more dependent than ever on complex, cross-company collaboration for business innovation … the future will be won by those who leverage the collective power of many.”
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