Brands know the fundamental value of innovation; they know that it is a determinant factor of competitiveness. In today’s collaborative economy, companies must make ideas, cultures, and profiles converge to create synergies in order to continue to offer novelty on increasingly saturated markets. That means calling on talent that will shed new light on their issues and opening up to other sectors.
This is what we call cross-innovation. It is not simply creating value through unusual collaborations, it is essentially about opening up to an innovation mode based on humility and transparency, on sharing between businesses and profiles that would not ordinarily work together.
A look at cross-innovation and the keys to success with the Pixelis branding agency Sense Activist, Aurélia Cocheteux, and Chief Experience Officer and member of the organizing team for Sustainable Brands Paris 2019, Bruno Vinay.
When cross-innovation is at the heart of an European event.
If Sustainable Brands Paris is Europe’s biggest event on innovation and sustainable development (April 23-25 at the Carrousel du Louvre), it is also the place where cross-innovation takes on its full meaning. In a world that is changing at increasing speed, with the appearance of new social and economic paradigms, establishing sustainable, responsible actions is no longer an option. That is why all of the business actors at SB Paris 2019 will contribute together to the emergence of new methods and solutions.
“We are cross-innovation facilitators,” explains Aurélia. “We bring different companies together that are not used to working with one another, we mix people, profiles and brainpower. We want to break down the silos within companies, to get people to talk and mix their different realities.”
SB Paris 19, a sharing event, will give companies a chance to seize opportunities they would not have been able to exploit on their own, and to understand the interest in brainstorming with operators whose issues are entirely different. “We want to be an accelerator for every business that wants to work on its social responsibility. We want them to reach out and seekinnovative brains in places they would never have looked. For example, it seems interesting to bring together companies as diverse as Sodexo, L’Oréal or EY” adds Bruno.
How does it work, concretely?
There are three levels of cross-innovation, two of which are external: the cross-sector level, the result of collaborations between companies from different sectors, and the cross-profile level that combines views by crossing managers, start-ups, manufacturers, and “pirates”. The third level of cross-innovation is internal and helps tear down the silos within companies to encourage sharing and communication between teams and departments.
“Cross-innovation is a new way to invent, to cultivate our differences, concentrate our energies and make different talents, professions and business sectors converge. More than just skills, our approach is driven by the human resource and the immediate need to open up to new perspectives,” says Aurélia.
“To be done properly, there are some things to consider during the cross-innovation process to create added value” explains Bruno. The idea of human intelligence is crucial: the actors working together must above all be humble, empathetic, and attentive in order to create an atmosphere of mutual trust conducive to discussion. And to achieve this, they first have to leave their professional secrecy fears at the door. “We often hear companies say that they are afraid to reveal their purchase or innovation strategies. But the interesting part about cross-innovation is precisely that participants do not operate on the same markets! These businesses are not competitors, which is why they can share their visions and strategies more freely,” says Bruno. “And they love that! Because it’s new and it takes them out of their comfort zone.”
However, businesses must measure the limits of this process that sounds like the miracle solution. Cross-innovation does not save time on a project’s entirety.
Thinking outside the box and working with new players does in fact help set the right context and ask the right questions; it gives a project new impetus and opens the realm of possibilities thanks to the diversity of profiles and talents.
But this process does not save time on the solution phase. “We’re not blind, we know that each context is different,” explains Aurélia. “A combination of solutions is often what helps create truly disruptive innovations, but these require time to become a reality. So cross-innovation is also about de-industrializing innovation: by multiplying the diversity of the participants, companies are beginning to produce crafted, “homemade” products, and that takes longer. This process also involves significant risks but that can be attenuated by beginning with small-scale implementation, like in one city or even one neighborhood.”
By crossing ideas from a wide variety of horizons, the cross-innovation process helps develop strategies similar to the Blue Ocean strategy. “We obtain something hybrid, that is hard to reproduce by potential competitors, but perhaps on which it is also harder to communicate!” points out Bruno.
“There is a real risk involved in cross-innovation because we don’t know where we’re going and it takes people who can assume and manage this risk. Courage is often needed in companies that want to conduct cross-innovation.”
So the process must be a carefully considered act because it means combing human intelligence and inclusion, as well as being careful not to be too pioneering, “because brands could fail to find their markets!”
Some success stories
Pixelis leads several cross-innovation initiatives and is involved, for example, with the Natural Resources Stewardship Council (NRSC), which brings together many cosmetics actors (Clarins, Chanel, Yves Rocher, Firmenich, Givaudan, etc.) to improve their responsible practices on their upstream value chains. The agency also contributed to the creation of the movement For a living agriculture that brings together brands as various as Système U, Pasquier, Ver de Terre production, Flunch around a responsible agriculture.
Besides, the brands who successfully meet this challenge are increasing in number. Cirque du Soleil is a leading example of a concentrate of cross-innovation. Known to the general public as an international circus troupe, it left its initial perimeter of competence to branch out into special events. By joining forces with the creative marketing agency Sid Lee, the two operators have been running C2 Montréal for 7 years now and work together on a truly unique event. The objective of these three days of conferences and experimental labs is to stimulate the creativity of the 7000 participants and generate new ways of doing business thanks to innovative brainstorming experiences. Hardcore cross-innovation!
Danone has also engaged the cross-innovation process with 3 inter-company leadership seminars: Eve, Octave and Noé. The purpose of Eve is to help women progress within the company, focusing on personal development with original workshops on corporate diversity. Over several days, this international program mixes men and women from completely different horizons and companies: L’Oréal, Orange, Crédit Agricole, SNCF, KPMG, and the Caisse des Dépôts group. The aim of this format is to enable participants to share and discuss more freely, to dare to be themselves and optimize their relationships with others.
If the connection between Danone and female empowerment is not immediately evident, it becomes fully meaningful for the participants who enjoy letting go, and leaving their business sector and what they are familiar with, to learn more and learn faster.
On the same model, Danone created the Octave program in partnership with Orange, L’Oréal and Engie. This second event tries to answer a new problem: how to mix generations within a company to enhance group performance. Finally, the third program Noé, resulting from collaboration between Danone, Utopies, GB Strategy Design and Srategyzer promotes a sustainable, humanist approach to corporate innovation.
“The take-away from all these initiatives is that they help businesses think differently, but it’s still business. These programs are actual think tanks; they help participants evolve and return to their daily activities with real added value,” explains Aurélia.
So, before being a factor of productivity, cross-innovation is first a group process that helps us to think differently by encouraging mingling and mixing profiles and sectors in order to open up new perspectives. Beyond each person’s competencies, the human being is at the heart of these changes.
What about tomorrow?
While cross-innovation enables group development of new strategies and solutions, compensation for the value of the ideas and engagement becomes a key issue. Opening thinking to include new actors means imagining a hybrid process and a new value chain.
Up until now, each phase of value creation implied compensation, what is the situation now? What is the value of an idea? “Today, the cross-innovation process is mainly based on a give-and-take approach. I do something for you and you will do something for me later on,” explains Bruno. “But whether or not it will always be a swap or even donation, or whether a new form of value sharing will emerge, for now, we don’t have the answer to that question.”
Little by little, cross-innovation is taking hold in businesses but with it come new questions whose answers will be discussed and debated during events like Sustainable Brands Paris in April 2019 that will draw actors and decision-makers from around the world and from every business sector.