[Case study] A company that truly buys, builds, and partners

The Ocean Cleanup shows off buy/ build/ partner openness and a “Burning Platform”-style Must-Do Purpose.

[Case study] A company that truly buys, builds, and partners
Cleaning the oceans takes every solution we can find | Photo by Brian Yurasits / Unsplash


Lots of innovation teams say they are open to buying, building, and partnering (BBP) to bring solutions to life. But way fewer teams actually do so.

Here is one company that apparently considers the ability actually to choose well among BBP as important enough to include it in the job requirements for a new Head of Product Innovation.

The story

The Ocean Cleanup, a company that hopes to "develop and scale technologies to rid the oceans of plastic" recently posted the open job position of Head of Product Innovation for their Rivers Team.

The posting includes this requirement:

"As Head of Product Innovation, you will enable a fast global scale-up of innovative solutions for plastic extraction in rivers. This includes improving our current solutions portfolio, selecting and assessing 3rd party solutions, and developing new solutions that meet the requirements for specific river characteristics."

The company also hints at a rationale for requiring that flexibility among "current solutions," "3rd party solutions," and "new solutions:”

"As no two rivers are the same, we need to continuously expand and improve our portfolio of Interceptor Solutions to match the requirements of selected rivers."

Or, in the lingo of Credible Innovation, this role has a “Burning Platform”-style "Must-Do Purpose,” meaning a problem that’s urgent and difficult enough that one simply can’t be proud or picky about the source of whatever solutions one can actually find.

[Source: The Ocean Cleanup]

The point for doing credible innovation work

I appreciate it whenever companies actually manage to consider multiple options for bringing solutions to life, rather than defaulting to a single approach over and over.

BBP appears like an obviously-good thing. But unlocking all three choices for a team is harder than it appears:

First, not even all teams who talk about this trifecta of options actually ever try to practice all three.

And even if they do, they may have no infrastructure, capabilities, partners, or expertise for achieving all three easily. Nor do their leaders and stakeholders always approve of all three options, or have a method for deciding which one to use when. For example, it can be complicated in big organizations for an M&A team placed in a Finance function and a Human-centered Design team in Innovation to work smoothly together day-to-day. It can and does happen. It’s just not easy.

Second, even if your Team routinely uses all of BBP to their full potential, consider whether you might push even further. That’s because BBP doesn’t truly represent all your options:

At minimum, you also have Reuse, Adapt & Hack, and Ride Along at your disposal.

Reuse takes your—or others’—old knowledge, assets, and so on, and makes them fit new uses. Upcycling, a trend in sustainable consumer goods, is one application of the concept. Simply making do with what you have and seeing if it could work in new ways is another.

Adapt & Hack takes something that’s mostly good-enough (or even fantastic) for a different purpose and simply changes or recombines what little bit needs changing, possibly on the fly. TV character MacGyver is the classic example for this in the U.S. for this technique. But elsewhere in the world, the entire Innovation method of Jugaad leans heavily into this concept too, with great results.

And Riding Along involves letting others do the work, with you learning from their experiences. One example of doing that is to invest in startups in a space that interests you, specifically with an approach in place to maximize your learning. You can also develop relationships with extreme users, academic researchers, or others who are exploring the edges of a space.

And of course, even all those examples merely scratch the surface.


Find the full story here (External links)

The Ocean Cleanup. "Head of Product Innovation - Rivers." Job posting. Posted May 12, 2023

Web Archive permalink (since the job posting will presumably disappear)

The Ocean Cleanup

Further reading

Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. (2012). Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass. 


Photo "Person holding fork" by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash


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