Scouting for Innovation

by Stefan Lindegaard

Scouting for InnovationNerac is a global research and advisory firm for companies developing innovative products and technologies. Two of their employees, Kristy Lutz Ulmer and Margaret Fiore, recently published a report on how companies scout for innovation.

I just got to read it and I find this to be great stuff that I want to share with you. You should also download the full report here – Innovation Scouting For 2009

The findings in the report fit well into a key thing being discussed in the open innovation community right now; the real effects of open innovation are due to behind-the-scenes activity rather than flashy portals and idea-generation campaigns.

The report has lots of great insights and the authors want to highlight these conclusions:

  • Innovation scouts acknowledge a general lack of formal knowledge of the process of scouting, including how to find and evaluate ideas.
  • The more integrated a company’s products are into other companies’ products, the higher the likelihood that scouting is considered important.
  • There are many different approaches for implementing innovation scouting, with companies using internal innovation scouts, external partners, third party scouts, and consultants.
  • Most companies operate with a small cadre of scouts, usually fewer than six resources.
  • The scouting role is not always confined to internal R&D departments within an organization, but instead is often jointly sponsored across multiple business units.
  • Innovation scouts use many methods for finding new ideas, with competitive intelligence the most prevalent source of ideas.

As we can see from the snippets below, the report is full of data and interesting conclusions:

Usage of Innovation Scouts:
Of the nearly 600 companies surveyed, approximately 30% of the respondents knew that their companies use innovation scouts. Another nearly 8% were aware of plans to begin using innovation scouts. Surprisingly, just over 42% were unsure whether or not their company employed scouts, so the usage rate could actually be higher.

Age of Scouting Program:
When asked how long scouts had been in place, 37% reported their companies have used innovation scouts for over five years, followed by another quarter that have used scouts between two and five years.

Size of Scouting Program:
Most companies operate with only a handful of innovation scouts. Our survey found that of the respondents who use innovation scouts, nearly one third have fewer than three employees in this role. Only 14% have more than 25 scouts.

Objectives of Scouting Programs:
The most important driver cited by 70% of respondents was “early identification of disruptive technologies.” This is followed closely by building the product pipeline, leapfrogging the competition, and creating something novel.

Sponsorship of Scouting Program:
38% said that scouting was sponsored by their R&D organization. Another 24% reported that it was sponsored by Business Development followed by 21.8% respondents that indicated their scouting was jointly sponsored by several executives or groups.

Scouting Resources:
Our survey sought to identify norms regarding how scouting programs are staffed. We found that the most common staffing approach (at 63%) is to tap company employees on a part-time basis. However, over 25% have full time employees in this position. Over a third of the respondents characterize their scouts as technically oriented, and over one quarter as business/marketing oriented.

Scouting Methods:
We found the most common techniques for uncovering external ideas include conducting competitive intelligence (76%), attending relevant conferences and tradeshows (72%), leveraging academic connections (71%), and exploiting their network of innovators (55%). Other, less common methods include the use of third party networks (41%), innovation “bounty” challenges (18%), and crowd sourcing (8%).

Knowledge Gaps of Scouts:
Our survey asked an open-ended question regarding the biggest knowledge gaps or primary training needs for innovation scouting. The most common response, by a measure of over 3:1, was a lack of understanding the “process” of scouting, that is, how to actually go about doing the job.

Successes and Failures:
More than two-thirds of respondents rated their innovation scouting programs as just “moderately successful,” with only 12% rating their efforts as “very successful.” While a majority of companies surveyed feel their scouting programs are successful, this indicates there is certainly room for improvement.

Great job by Kristy and Margaret of Nerac! Check the full report here: Scouting For Innovation 2009


Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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