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SAL’s secret sauce – Part 2


What do we use to engage with our network? – Defining a search specification

Following from our first dive into the exciting world of open innovation (click here to visit this artice), we will now focus on the next stage i.e. the process of writing a search specification

This process, whilst as important as the breaking down of the problem, is fundamentally different. While the first analysis of a problem and sub sequential opening of the innovation landscape requires significant divergent thinking, constructing a search specification is a convergent process, where we narrow down certain approaches and define, even while allowing some grey areas, the constraints that define the search.

SAL’s search specifications (specs) serve two specific purposes on our technology scouting process: they are a distillation of the information gathered through the initial step and serve as a guide during our search efforts; and they give a non-confidential, non-recognizable specification that we use to approach both our network as well as any potential technology partners.

We include in our specifications enough technical information to allow any potential partner to evaluate whether they are suitable to help in any given technological search, maintaining it, simultaneously, flexible enough and providing some leeway on the “tougher” constraints. We prefer to obtain a higher number of proposals and filter them ourselves than allow interesting things to pass through us, even if they don’t exactly “fit the bill”.

Writing a search specification requires a strong balance between providing as much information as possible while maintaining the identity of the client unrecognizable – which, in our opinion, greatly enhances the initial discussion without setting expectations or industry labels.

What we include in our specification is dependent on several factors, including who the client is, what their goals are – both in terms of timeframe as well as involvement in collaboration and the technical details of the search. Considering that we often interact simultaneously with different levels of technical expertise, from researchers to business development managers, our specification needs to incorporate enough information to spark interest and ideas independently of the recipient but be general and clear enough not to alienate any non-technical partners. One of the ways we traditionally do this is, by design; restrain the length of the specification to an A4 page. It is a simple way to frame any of our searches – any problem should be able to be described in a single page while at the same time it prevents us from getting ahead of ourselves and providing too much information. Our goal, at the end of the day, is always to start a conversation where we can then explain our technology requests in more detail.

We also find it quite useful to add some non-limiting ideas of technical/scientific fields where solutions might come, from the most obvious to the wackiest.

Finally, whenever possible, we try to add simple images/graphics to our specifications. An image can make the difference between understanding the search/sparking ideas and misinterpreting the message we are trying to convey.

If you are curious to check what our specifications look like, we keep many of our current searches updated on our website, which you can find at: http://www.strategicallies.co.uk/collaborate

Next time we will be diving into the core of how we actually find technologies and partners for our clients and what tools we use in the process.


Prepared by Ivan Coelho