A Very Good Time to "Open" Innovation

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected and social, it is no surprise that many more organizations are turning to the world outside their four walls to solve some of their toughest problems, such as coming up with “the next big thing.” There is a seemingly infinite pool of knowledge, insight, and experience available for the taking by the means of external competition, contests, or tournaments.

Open Innovation is a familiar concept by now; in fact, it has been making the news for almost a decade. Open Innovation challenges have evolved and taken new forms over time, encompassing everything from Netflix’s algorithm competition to the hackathons hosted by tech and software companies.

What is new, however, is a realization that many internal crowd-sourcing capabilities are essential to Open Innovation success. At Imaginatik, we see three particular precursors to external success: open minds, leadership through sponsors, and institutional persistence.

It’s okay to ask for help

Today’s organizations employ the most intelligent, qualified talent that they can find. Too frequently, however, these individuals believe that they have to be problem solvers. They dedicate significant amounts of time, energy, and resources trying to solve problems that their organizations are facing, rather than seeking assistance from the outside. Some individuals would benefit from shifting their mentality from believing that they are “problem solvers” to being “solution finders,” which means that they need to become more comfortable with asking for help, with seeking out the right problems to be solved.

This doesn’t begin just with scientists, R&D, or product marketers, rather with senior leadership and management. By implementing and embracing a rewards and recognition system that endorses and encourages “solution finding,” senior leadership can help ensure that people become more open-minded to the idea of looking for help outside the organization. Not only will they have a wider base of information and experience to draw upon, but it is also often much less costly and much quicker to employ the use of Open Innovation to achieve breakthrough solutions.

Strong leaders are focused on the right things

Strong leadership is the glue and driving force in any innovation program, but it is particularly important in organizations that want to develop an Open Innovation program. Leadership itself isn’t enough, however; it needs to have clear goals and objectives and be focused on the right things. Because leadership is responsible for endorsement, encouragement, review, and reward systems in organizations, it can truly shape how an Open Innovation program will turn out.

By focusing on creating business value in the long-term, and not on immediate business unit efficiency, leaders can help insure that substantial, lasting, long-term change happens. These leaders understand that innovation is more than a one-and-done project with immediate results. An acceptance of failure is part of the success formula. In the case of Open Innovation, they understand that there is no guarantee that the submissions they receive will work. They know that there is a much better chance that they will be guided in the right direction toward an eventual solution than if they restricted the process within their one business unit or even the organization. They are willing to tell people, “You are more valuable to me as a solution-finder than as a problem solver,” and to encourage them to think outside the organizational box.

(Open) Innovation should be constant

In Imaginatik’s 2013 State of Global Innovation survey, under-developed culture ranked as one of the largest obstacles in creating and maintaining a sustainable and successful innovation function within participants’ organizations. 39% of respondents said that people view innovation as a one-and-done project, rather than an ongoing capability.

Because the world is changing so rapidly, consistently employing Open Innovation can help organizations stay on top of trends, ideas, and competition in the marketplace, while also helping them stay ahead of the competitive curve (rather than having to play catch up). Innovation programs, like everything else, are more successful when practiced on a regular basis. Not only do results and responses compound on themselves over time, but the pool of responses and responders, their diversity, and their quality also increase.

Having mastered internal innovation processes, many organizations continue to express greater interest in looking beyond their own resources for compelling solutions to technical and business problems. 2014 is the year when leveraging these three capabilities (mentioned above), as well as many others, will help your organization reap the surprising benefits of Open Innovation.

Join us at the Open Innovation Forum in Baltimore on February 26-27th!

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