by Rich Rovito, WMEP Industry Reporter

A lack of collaboration can limit a company’s ability to innovate, according to Sarah Miller Caldicott, an innovation process expert and author of a new book on the topic.

Caldicott - headshot“Collaboration is the gateway to innovation,” said Caldicott, a grandniece of Thomas Edison. She spent 15 years as a marketing executive with global firms such as Quaker Oats and the Helene Curtis subsidiary of Unilever before starting her own consulting firm. “Unless you can collaborate, it’s tougher to innovate.”

Caldicott’s newest book, “Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success, from Thomas Edison’s Lab,” released in December 2012 by Wiley & Sons Publishing, brings Edison’s collaboration approach into the digital era, offering executives new tools for driving innovation through collaboration.

Collaboration is the gateway to innovation.”
Sarah Miller Caldicott

The ability to rapidly share information across various groups of employees has become more convenient through the proliferation of smart phones and other digital technologies and platforms, placing a greater emphasis on collaboration in efforts to drive innovation, Caldicott said.

“Employees often have equal access to information and that information can be exchanged rapidly,” she said.

The following quote from the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Parternship’s executive director Buckley Brinkman appears in Caldicott’s new book: “Today it’s not so much the expertise of each worker, but what they can create. It’s less about the facts they already know and more about the knowledge they can generate.”

In “Midnight Lunch,” Caldicott focuses on ways to foster collaboration through various tactics, including leveraging social networks, inspiring catalysts and leaders within an organization and “reskilling” employees.

Employees not only need core skills to be successful, but most also need to possess soft skills that allow them to mentor other employees, generate insight from data and establish a rapport with fellow workers, Caldicott said.

Caldicott has focused on innovation in her writing. Concerned that the United States was losing its innovation leadership as the new millennium dawned, Caldicott spent three years researching Edison’s innovation methods. She co-authored a book with Michael Gelb on Edison’s world-changing innovation process entitled “Innovate Like Edison: The Five-Step System for Breakthrough Business Success.

Manufacturers and other businesses continue to struggle with innovation, she said.

“We’re still in transition,” Caldicott said.

Part of the struggle stems from breaking away from an era when innovation and research and development have been limited to a specific group of people or department within an organization. In such situations, there is limited collaboration between groups of employees.

Successful innovation today involves efforts across a wide range of employees and departments, she said.

“The view had been that this was someone else’s job, but it’s everyone’s role to be innovative,” Caldicott said. “Rather than have it be limited to a departmental function, innovation needs to be enterprise-wide.”

Innovation is crucial to a company’s long-term success.

“Today, innovation is a big part of what drives market relevance,” Caldicott said. “The notion of staying relevant drives the urgency for innovation.”

Without a focus on innovation, companies will suffer, she added.

Caldicott points to corporations like Eastman Kodak Co., a once dominant force in the market that lost relevancy when it failed to embrace the shift to digital photography technology. There’s also the case of  Research in Motion Ltd., which developed the Blackberry line of hand-held devices, but lost a dramatic level of market share when it failed to keep up with advances made by competitors such Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone.

Caldicott currently is president of her own Chicago-based consulting firm, The Power Patterns of Innovation, which offers training and guidance on how to build innovation and collaboration capabilities in organizations of all sizes. Her clients include Intel, Deere & Co., Emerson, the Mayo Clinic and Microsoft as well as numerous non-profit organizations.

She led a session at the WMEP’s Manufacturing Matters! conference in 2012.