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Mergers Can Ignite Innovation

Marian Cook

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Innovation happens when different people interact in new ways. In our interconnected world, ideas, news, commerce, and even economic turbulence jump borders and drive change. The barriers between us are coming down, and this is at the heart of the incredible innovation we are seeing today.

Organizations, however, are not nearly as frictionless. In merger and acquisition scenarios, we remain tribal, fearful, and resistant to change. It doesn't have to be that way.

A merger can be an opportunity to make an organization more collaborative and innovative. In a recent merger effort—merging 38 organizations into one—we strategically designed innovation into the merger strategy and implementation. We devised and launched an overarching innovation/integration strategy to bring down barriers and borders and ignite innovation.

How can an organization remove borders within itself, between the merging organizations, and between itself and the outside world in a way that enables accelerated change and innovation? How can we use a merger scenario as a way not just to unify an organization but to create a borderless culture that ignites innovation? Establish collaborative communities between the merging entities and with the outside world. Below are several examples of collaborative communities.

Strategic Advisory Boards—These are examples of many that are breaking down internal barriers. Externally, strategic advisory boards were formed on organizational transformation, smart technology, and corporate innovation. These included large companies, entrepreneurs, academia, and others.

Innovation Center—We created a physical space unlike any other in the organization. In this open, flexible, natural light-filled space, we held innovation sessions, workshops, working sessions with partners, classes, and events.

Executive Councils—This is a full day meeting every other month, bringing together more than 60 executives. The intent is to break down silos, get input, get feedback, and buy-in to change efforts. It includes . . .


  • Internal and external leadership speakers series

  • Entrepreneur showcase: start-ups present to potential internal buyers

  • Leadership development program for executives and their teams

  • Innovation days: find, highlight, and leverage the many innovations throughout the state

  • Encourage innovation through an assessment and recognition process


Working Groups—working groups were formed to create and execute on enterprise strategies and action plans for . . .


  • Innovation

  • Analytics

  • Cybersecurity

  • Mobility

  • Cloud

  • Integrity/Fraud


Centers of Excellence—Over time, several working groups evolved into centers of excellence (CoE). A CoE is defined as a virtual team of people across the organization sharing expertise, best practices, and assets to achieve business results. The first were in innovation, blockchain, internet of things, and analytics.

Is the Journey Done?

It never is, but participation was enthusiastic and generous by the members of all silo-busting efforts, from internal centers of excellence to external advisory boards and more.

There was a latent demand for change and to unleash innovation, and using collaborative communities during our merger became a way to do so.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Marian Cook is currently a solutions principal for Slalom Consulting, as well as the head facilitator for MIT's blockchain certification course and a strategic advisor to the Chicago Blockchain Center. Immediately prior, she was the chief strategy officer for Innovation and Technology for the State of Illinois, having moved from the private sector to public service in 2015.

She started as a systems engineer with IBM, re-engineering processes, implementing systems, and creating business and technology strategies. Moving to international consulting firms, she worked globally, developing business growth and turnaround strategies, as well as the client side as the head of IT for a top healthcare organization.

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