The Virtues of Cross-Pollination

The marriages continue. Earlier this week, we noted that Toyota and Ford have teamed up to develop a gas-electric hybrid system. Now, it’s General Motors and Korea’s LG Corp. that are teaming up to develop battery-powered vehicles. The Wall Street Journal called it a “first-of-its-kind pairing” between an automaker and electronics giant. “While GM has some partnerships with other auto makers and other companies, it has handled its most important developments in-house,” the Journal noted.

Peter Drucker wrote often of the benefits—indeed, the necessity—of such cross-pollination. “Innovation in any one knowledge area tends to originate outside the area itself,” Drucker wrote in Managing in a Time of Great Change. “This is true in respect to products and processes—where, in sharp contrast to the way it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, innovations now tend to arise outside the industry or process itself. It is true just as much in scientific knowledge and in scholarship.”

[EXPAND More]A lot of the most important innovation seen in business today relies on what Drucker called convergences. “Knowledge-based innovations . . . are almost never based on one factor but on the convergence of several different kinds of knowledge, not all of them scientific or technological,” Drucker observed in Innovation and Entrepeneurship. “The computer . . . required the convergence of no less than five different knowledges: a scientific invention, the audion tube; a major mathematical discovery, the binary theorem; a new logic; the design concept of the punchcard; and the concepts of program and feedback.”

Drucker would therefore have welcomed moves by GM to look outside of itself more. “In the 19th century and throughout the first half of the 20th century, it could be taken for granted that technologies outside one’s own industry had no, or at least only minimal, impact on the industry,” Drucker wrote in Management Challenges for the 21st Century. “Now the assumption to start with is that the technologies that are likely to have the greatest impact on a company and an industry are technologies outside its own field.”

Tell us about a time you or your business successfully drew on outside areas of knowledge. What happened? [/EXPAND]

Image credit: GSU