Are Strange Bedfellows Your Next Innovation Move?

This article was originally published on October 20, 2015. Some partnerships are cheese and crackers. Others aren’t necessarily comfortable at first glance:
  • British home improvement retailer B&Q teamed up with social media site Streetbank to beef up its Streetclub social networking site earlier this year. Through Streetclub, B&Q customers connect with neighbors to share skills and tools – making their home improvement projects easier, less expensive and more fun. Partnering with Streetbank gives B&Q far greater reach and instant (sorry) street cred.
  • If you’re shopping for a wedding gift with a handmade vibe, Nordstrom has the ticket. Leveraging a partnership with Etsy, the online marketplace for handcrafted items, Etsy & Nordstrom Present offers a changing selection of home goods (think: engraved vintage coffee spoons) that you won’t see coming and going at other department stores.
  • Hate paying a king’s ransom to park your car at the airport? Members of Flightcar park for free, and earn an average of $30 per trip by renting their cars out while they’re away. Insurance and a free car wash are part of the bargain. Bottom line: Who doesn’t love the idea of converting two pesky expenses – parking and car rental – into a small income opportunity?
  • Last cold and flu season, the TaskRabbit iPhone app featured a “Walgreens” button that activated the delivery of cold meds, post haste. Woozy flu sufferers didn’t have to brave a trip to the drugstore mid-fever, and they didn’t have to spend time hacking their own delivery set-up on two different sites. Bonus for TaskRabbit and Walgreens: Instant scale.
  • In downtown Seattle, people are lining up to experience “Exhibit:Growth,” an immersive digital art experience that enables participants to see, feel and direct their own journey through a “connective landscape” of light and imagery. Who’s behind this public art? Umpqua Bank, whose current “Growth” initiative invites consumers to consider, vividly, their potential for human growth.
The mashup of up social networking and DIY home improvement projects – or banking and public art – may seem at first like an odd mix. But it’s precisely this strangeness that sparks innovation. In a LinkedIn essay posted earlier this year, Raj Kosaraju, CIO at Maxil Technology Solutions, noted several successful ideas that began as odd pairings:
  • Airlines improved turnaround times when they studied Indianapolis 500 pit crews.
  • Hospitals improved check-in processes by consulting hotels.
  • Medical device manufacturers analyzed automobile airbag deployment in order to understand how angioplasty balloons expand and contract in blood vessels.
  • Whitening toothpaste was developed by studying how laundry detergent whitens clothes.
The advantages of mashing up your business with another full-blown business or process are many. Instead of cultivating a germ of an idea into something viable, results – or projected results -- are instant. Your investment, too, is likely to be far lower with less accompanying risk. Teaming up with an established company can have an immediate branding boost. And dreaming up these kinds of collaborations requires a different kind of imaginative leap: You don’t have to determine how to start and operate TaskRabbit to look for productive ways to collaborate with them. Are you short on innovative ideas for expanding or energizing your business? Look around for partnership opportunities – they may exist where you least expect them.