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1795. Napoleon, in the heat of battle, offers a 12,000-franc reward to whoever develops a formula to preserve food on the battlefield, guaranteeing the sustenance of his soldiers. The reward offered was the spark that Nicolas Appert, a French Master Confectioner, needed to invent a method for the hermetic conservation of foods.

There are no doubts regarding Napoleon’s skills as a strategist. What we didn’t know was that he was one of the pioneers of collective intelligence and collaborative innovation.


The anecdote, reproduced by MIT in this article, shows how his influence is still felt three centuries later in the business world, also on the verge of a revolution. Like in all revolutions, ideas are catalysts of new processes; in this case characterized by a complete digitalization that influences all business models. In fact, there are those who are already referring to the situation as a fourth Industrial Revolution, the ‘digital revolution’.

A new era in which companies are forced to innovate and adapt to changing and unstable times, in order to remain competitive; whereas the traditional approach to innovation requires long periods of maturation for ideas and significant investment and internal experimentation.

In short, a true paradox at a time of accelerated speeds and global connectivity.

For this reason, an increasing number of companies turn to ideas by third parties to unblock opportunities, whether they do so through collaboration with other companies that offer high added value in innovation–these are often startups–or using techniques such as crowdsourcing and co-creation with clients. This is a way for them to recruit external talent and detect new business opportunities, among other benefits.

In summary, it is a complete reinvention process, accepting that companies are no longer what they were, or that productivity and talent may be found outside of your payroll or offices.

Calling upon collaborative innovation gives companies greater strength and flexibility

Now more than ever, companies are calling upon the power of diversity, turning to visions that are uncontaminated by internal work routines and to disruptive, out of the box thinking. One example is entertainment company Netflix, who ‘unlocked’ numerous data from its database to make it openly available to third parties so that they could improve their movie recommendation system, thus saving money and equipment in the improvement of their recommendation algorithms.

The value of difference in the search for something new.

Diversity is essential in any open and collaborative innovation process, because it allows you to draw out different ways of solving problems and take advantage of the strengths of different persons and profiles.

And since participants are different, so are the results, multiplying the ability to surprise with unexpected ideas as well as unsuspected talent.

This leads to diversity that enriches many of the processes driving a collaborative innovation process forward.

In the Netflix example, the promoters of the competition managed to gather resources for their crowdsourcing challenge from high school students and computer science graduates alike.

When other organizations are involved in the open innovation processes, diversity also becomes a value because it allows the inclusion of ‘sectorized’ or ‘niche’ knowledge, fresh ideas and new processes.

Lastly, it is worth stressing that diversity in problem resolution is also displayed in the solutions to those problems. Committing oneself to open innovation, with one’s own teams or with external support, using connective elements such as, for example, innovation management software, allows to expand the range of options when confronted with challenges.

There is no magic formula when facing today’s challenges. But counting on diversity and involving it in collective processes can transform problems into new opportunities.