Making Open Innovation Stick

The publication, in 2003, of Henry Chesbrough’s book “Open Innovation” spawned a movement that has since swept across the industrial landscape and changed forever how companies think about innovation.  The ideas were not new.  In some cases they date back to the 1960s to the work in inter-firm R&D collaboration and they borrow from other work on collaborative innovation, user-driven innovation and mass innovation.  What Chesbrough’s book did do, very successfully, was make a compelling case for open innovation.

Understanding the context for open innovation

Since then companies have struggled to find an appropriate context for open innovation, which is why, ten years later adoption has been slow and the results have been mixed. There are of course some notable success stories – most notable of all perhaps P&G’s “Connect and Develop” program.  But these are the exception rather than the norm.

In order to understand the context for open innovation we must first understand corporate intent and the distinct open innovation solutions that emerge from it.

Accelerators and Incubators

Popularized in the 1990s, these structures emerged to address the needs of start-ups who are perennially challenged to leverage external resources to deliver on their ambitious goals.  Large enterprises latched onto the phenomenon – often in unstructured ways – to take an option on promising technology.  But the loose coupling in these relationships seldom helped these large enterprises achieve strategic innovation objectives in a systematic way

Crowdsourcing and Idea Contests

The 200os saw the emergence of numerous software platforms such as InnoCentive, Nine Sigma and Quirky dedicated to sourcing solutions from outside the corporation.  It was an acknowledgement that the vast majority of the relevant talent and ideas lay outside of the boundaries of the corporation.  The challenge was to discover and source not invent and develop.

Co-Creation Platforms

These structures are designed to connect users with the brand in order to test and design solutions that meet unmet customer needs.  P&G’s Cocreation Channel and Lego Cuuso are examples of winning formulas.  In other cases enterprises have adapted the model for employee-driven innovation.

Co-development Platforms and Hackathons

These represent an attempt to collaborate with users to develop new products and new businesses.  Often the users self organize into communities motivated by a shared goal. The Open Source movement is probably the most successful example of this phenomenon.

Making Open Innovation stick

So before embarking on any open innovation initiative, enterprises must ask themselves some fundamental questions:

  1. What problem are we trying to solve?
  2. What kind of community do we need to engage with and what motivates them to participate?
  3. Are we looking to mobilize our employees in the cause of innovation or mobilize external participants (users, partners, etc)?
  4. What kind of internal innovation system do we need to build to extract the most value from open innovation?
  5. How does open innovation link to a broader innovation strategy?
  6. How do we need to change our culture and adapt the way we work in order to be successful?

In our experience these questions are rarely addressed in a systematic way and as a consequence making open innovation “stick” is a challenge often resulting in disappointment.

Strategos’ alliance with InnoCentive was born out of a recognition of the need to help enterprises not just deploy open innovation solutions but to set the pre-conditions for success.  These pre-conditions arise out of a series of strategic conversations and a long-term commitment to building a systematic capability for innovation.

As open innovation comes of age we look forward to working with clients to making open innovation “stick” and doing so in the context of clear strategic intent.


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