Open innovation would be more and more popular with companies who, however, prefer some techniques more than others.
“Open Innovation is the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation. Companies can commercialize internal ideas through channels outside of their current businesses in order to generate value for the organization: examples include spinoff/ startup companies and licensing agreements. In addition, ideas can also originate outside the firm’s own labs and be brought inside for commercialization.” (Gardwood Center for Corporate Innovation research)
The use of open innovation within companies seems to have become widespread: 78% of European and American companies report using it, often and for years. These are the findings of a study by the Gardwood Center for Corporate Innovation at the University of California and Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft , a German organization specializing in applied science research in 2,800 large companies.
The concept of open innovation is simple: how to open up to a larger group of people? Internally, by open itself to other departments but also externally, by opening up to its customers, suppliers, partners and even the world.
It is important to note that Open Innovation does not necessarily mean opening up to people outside its organization.
A progression in 5 levels of opening
Let us take the example of a traditional approach: a company that wants to develop a product.
Level 1: A group of experts works together on an issue
Experts from a department, in this case, the product developers, will work together to solve a given problem. The experts have a profound knowledge of the context and a good understanding of the problem which allows them to unravel it easily. This is the most “simple” level and that is why many companies generally use this approach.
Limits of this level: This level is limited because of the lack of diversity of the people involved and their small amount. Many companies realize that, based on this model, they close themselves to potential contributions that may come from other departments.
Level 2: Ideas boxes
Collect employee ideas via “ideas boxes”. The boxes generally work well at the beginning and allow collecting many ideas.
Limits of this level: There is no way to share these ideas. After six to nine months the quality and quantity of ideas fall massively. Employees tend to get tired because a large percentage of ideas are not implemented. When it comes to sorting bad ideas, the method can also be energy and time consuming.
Level 3: Challenges
At level 3, we focus our innovation on challenges and not on ideas. Instead of asking employees for their opinions, suggestions or ideas, we want to get solutions to a specific problem. From my point of view, the success of an open innovation effort is based on formulating better questions rather than seeking solutions or ideas.
As Albert Einstein said “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes to find solutions”
It is then possible to post challenges on an intranet. For example, how could it be possible to improve the productivity of a specific problem in the company?
The key is to post challenges rather specific so as not to be abstract or too complex and requires specific expertise.
Limitations of this Level: Employees must be motivated to participate in an effort when they already have their own work to do. Employees must also have a minimum knowledge of the context of the challenge but not as much as an employee working directly with the problem. For this purpose it is advisable to produce a document summarizing the essential information of the challenge as well as evaluation criteria. At this level the company always limits the diversity and the number of participants.
Level 4: Opening to other people of trust
Level 4 is the level of the company’s opening on the outside. We open ourselves to close collaborators and confidences: universities, suppliers, groups of customers, consultants…
Limits of this level: If you share sensitive data with these external partners how do you protect this information? You will have to address intellectual property issues. It will certainly be necessary to provide further information on the context. This level is very useful for defining challenges and not only to find solutions.
Level 5: Opening to the world
This is the level of the “Crowd Sourcing”, and we are asking potentially seven billion people to find solutions.
Limitations of this level: It is important to understand that, in addition to intellectual property issues, it will be necessary to ensure that the problem that one tries to solve does not require much knowledge about the context. Indeed, at this level, one opens up to everyone and one does not wish to communicate sensitive information with all the participants. Moreover, rare are the people who will dedicate time to the knowledge of the subject in depth. It is therefore important to frame the problem.