Technology Scouting: Rethinking the Innovation Toolbox

Companies should reconsider their technology scouting strategies to proactively seek, identify and access external knowledge, skills, capabilities and intellectual assets. These may or may not be applicable to their current needs. However, these resources could quickly be activated to help address new challenges as they arise. Sort of an innovation toolbox, according to Michael Fruhling.

Thomas Davenport and Lawrence Prusak wrote in their book Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know (Harvard Business School Press, 2000) that “the knowledge-focused firm needs to have appropriate knowledge available when and where it can be applied…”  In the field of open innovation, a keynote speaker at this year’s CoDev 10 conference encouraged practitioners to “Know what you know”- that is, create a foundation of internal knowledge and capability prior to seeking external support. From there, one might cast the next step as, “Learn what they know” – identify external technical capability available to address unmet needs.

I wonder how many companies realize the full extent of the external technical resources they may be able to access and apply. This includes people and organizations to whom they’ve had exposure through their own external innovation efforts, but whose full technical capabilities remain unknown to them.

Companies should reconsider their technology scouting strategies to proactively seek, identify and access external knowledge, skills, capabilities and/or intellectual assets. These may or may not be applicable to their current needs. However, these resources could quickly be activated to help address new challenges as they arise. In effect, I’m talking about storing qualified capability in the corporate “toolbox” and not just specific technology executions.

Well qualified external technical capability can be a highly valuable resource to knowledge-focused firms. YourEncore and others recruit and qualify experienced corporate talent pools across a host of technical disciplines. These consultants (of which I am one) act as a ready resource for corporate challenges. I believe that corporations can actively recruit and qualify their own external talent networks for similar purpose.

Importantly, this should include parties with whom the company has had dealings through its own external innovation initiatives.

As a technology scout, I frequently identify unexpected external capabilities simply because I take the time to inquire and probe. I have learned that these finds can be as, or more valuable than the original inspiration that led me to the provider.

For example, one of my technology provider clients retained a highly experienced consulting resource to do specialized prototype development work and to enable my client’s innovation to be manufacturable. His considerable talents and manufacturing facilities could undoubtedly also be leveraged by technology seekers for a variety of needs. A couple of the companies to whom I’ve presented my client’s innovation have taken time to inquire and learn about his resource. Why not more?

Does your company make a dedicated effort to seek and to capture as much information as it could about external capability as part of its technology scouting and external innovation program? The future of open innovation is going to be about leveraging collaborative talent networks, including both internal and external know-how. Companies that make a commitment to acquiring this knowledge will be taking a meaningful step in that direction.

Michael Fruhling is the founder and CEO of bfs innovations, Inc., a technology scouting firm that creates and capitalizes on consumer and market-driven business opportunities  He has 25 years of new business and new product development experience and success with companies including Procter and Gamble, Bristol Myers Squibb/Drackett and Bath and Body Works.

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