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The Partnership Paradox: On GE’s 2012 Innovation Monitor

February 10, 2012

When surveyed 80% of top executives agree their organisations need to innovate differently and 86% say that  partnerships and collaboration is the key to innovation. Yet – only 21% say they are developing them. In their latest 2012 Innovation Monitor, General Electric call this – The Partnership Paradox. So why does it exist? And what can we do to change it?

Which Button?

 Partner Or Perish:

In 2011 GE’s Innovation Monitor, having investigated the key elements of innovation with executives all   over the world highlighted the importance of partnerships and collaboration. And Beth Comstock, GE’s Global Chief Marketing Officer stated in Harvard Business Reviewthat she sees collaboration as the most vital part of her senior marketers roles – and she leads from the front, focusing her activity on building alliances, research partnerships and exploring connections across industries. As she said in 2001 – “For innovation to flourish, we must embrace a new innovation paradigm that promotes collaboration between all players  –  big, small, public, and private partnerships foster creativity and emphasize solutions that meet local needs.” For Comstock the heart of innovation is all partnership & collaboration. Large businesses need to partner with SME’s, entrepreneurs, think tanks, innovation centres and industry allies. They need to be open and build long-term relationships that give them an advantage. I agree. And we are not alone.

 The Need To Collaborate:

The need for new relationships, connections and fresh conversations to drive creative thinking, new ideas and problem solving has been pointed out by many. Charles Darwin said “In the long history of humankind – it is those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed “ And more up to date – the brilliant Seth Godin points out; “Outsiders are more likely to approach your organization with fabulous projects if they think they’ll get a good reception”. Read the work of Moss Kanter, Gary Hamel, Tom Kelley, Lynda Gratton and Steve Berkun on innovation and the consistent thread is clear. You innovate through collaboration and looking externally, rather than getting bogged down in what you are good at today and doing it all in-house.

So why is there this ‘Partnership Paradox’? One view could be that in reality, executives do not see partnerships and alliances as that important. It’s a bit of a luxury, something to look at perhaps after they have done all their innovating. I think the Paradox is telling us something else: most executives are not skilled in building collaborations and partnership and they lack the focus, confidence and tools to pioneer them. And so its easier to do what most companies do when they ‘do innovation’. They revert internally, recruit people, invest in ‘R&D’ and try to build an internal culture of innovation. It is the process that Steve Jobs famously described as ‘like watching your uncle dance at a disco’. In a relationship sense; it’s going off to the shed or down to the pub and having the same old conversations with the same old people whilst expecting a different and positive outcome. It wont happen.

It’s Not How The World Works Anymore:

Over the past year, whilst establishing my own consultancy, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with a huge variety of successful entrepreneurs, agencies, Venture Capitalists and some great business leaders. One thing is evident in all of them. They have energy and love meeting with new people, hearing about their ideas and exploring possible opportunities. They share their insights and connections. It is the essence of innovative thinking – doing it by yourself is a long, lonely road. As Comstock says ‘we used to think we could do it all ourself – that’s just not how the world works anymore’. Finding the right people, brands and other organisations (NGO’s , Govt.) – to work with and you multiply the thinking, the resources, the momentum. Identifying and initiating the first conversations is normally that difficult. Many prospective collaborative opportunities can be found with contacts across suppliers, industry colleagues and networks. Conversations can develop into ideas, then plans, agreements and launches. But – it is the inability to build personal trust, explore new business models and change existing thinking that is a common block.  John Abele, Founder of Boston Scientific, described this in HBR July 2011. “Many people go through the motions but few know how to collaborate. I am struck by the behaviour of otherwise bright people who poison potentially rich collaborations – without realising it”

Partner or Perish:

So should The Partnership Paradox surprise? In 2009, the CEO of Xerox Ann Mulcahy said ‘Its Partner – Or Perish’ – and yet it seems so many executives either (A) do not really believe in the need for partnerships, alliances and key relationships or (B) – they do, but don’t know where to start. High value, high risk relationships are not easy – and there is risk and conflict. But increasingly, there is no alternative. If partnerships and collaborations are useful for giants such as Apple, General Electric, Virgin and Xerox – its good for others. And if you are reading this and you are a business leader or marketer responsible for innovation – its good for you too.

So what needs to be done? Buildings and office equipment do not walk about, making calls, setting up discussions and learning about other businesses and exploring different ideas. It is up to people to do the collaborating. A great business collaboration is fuelled by both commercial savvy and emotional intelligence. What is needed is a new breed of executive and management that is willing to be open, to pioneer and find the valuable new relationships and build positive, mutually rewarding, honest and collaborative initiatives.

Those that can do this, will thrive. Those that cannot, will be stuck in the Partnership Paradox.

For more information on partnership marketing, alliances, innovation and collaboration see Benchstone.

Related articles please see Additional key links:

Collaboration Is Not The Same As Brainstorming –
Collaboration – The Key Driver for Success in Business
On Optimism, Innovation – And Hope.
Partnership Gears: The Gears that drive Partnerships are FIT, PLANNING and MOMENTUM. .


  1. Brilliant article Andrew – very well said. There’s a reason community is making a comeback – we do better together – always have and always will. In my experience, there are few partnerships marketer’s who do it well – it’s an optimum combination of skills, experience, systems, personality and networks. Which is why I love to collaborate with experts like yourself to grow the market for partnership marketing and make the expert resources available to help more businesses thrive through smart collaboration. This is the reason I created .

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