Business innovation isn’t rocket science—it’s really just a creative new way of thinking about how to accomplish a goal. But truly innovative home builders are nearly as rare as people who have walked on the moon.

Builders who know how to innovate can reap big rewards. For instance after a Chapter 11 filing in the 1990’s, NVR, Inc. re-engineered its business processes, focused its business and adopted innovative practices like optioning rather than buying land, making it the most consistently profitable public builder in the time since, and preventing it from losing money during the Great Recession. Today, it’s the leader in several housing markets.

Although companies like this are often viewed as risk-takers, they actually spend a lot of time creating bulletproof systems that keep risk at a minimum. There’s nothing mysterious about these systems, and any successful builder can create them. The most important ones organize three critical areas: Collaboration, Customer Value and Focus.

Collaboration Benefits
Everyone knows that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but few realize that he also invented collaborative innovation. In the 1870’s Edison founded what’s considered the world’s first innovation lab in Menlo Park, NJ. It was staffed with research and development teams that are credited with more than 400 electrical patents during its 10 years of operation.

The point is that while we like to imagine geniuses like Edison, Marie Curie or George Washington Carver as creative loners, the truth is that they relied on teams of people that collaborated to bring their ideas to fruition.

Measurable benefits can flow from even the most basic type of collaboration, like the trade council. One builder I worked with was having trouble getting the trades to its sites on time, so we set up a trade council. During the first meeting it became clear that sites often weren’t ready when the builder called the trade contractors. The trades never knew when the builder was “crying wolf” and as a result they became less responsive. Once the builder and its trades put their heads together, the problem became clear to everyone and was quickly solved.

Collaboration is even more essential to a large innovation effort. Take the case of Building Information Modeling (BIM), a subject I have written about in this column.