The process of innovation has undergone an innovation! I am not referring to the initial ideation process that sparks innovation. If an apple falls on your head and you come up with the idea for gravitation, it would be very like how that happened a few centuries back with a young Isaac Newton. The difference today is the part of the process that happens following the physics of the apple. Should Sir Newton be around today, he would likely post a concept onto a community site frequented by a network of other aspiring physicists who would collaborate on the concepts of gravitational pull and earthly rotation.
So, the part of the innovation process that has experienced a creative turn is the collaboration surrounding the ideation process. More and more, this process is being facilitated and enhanced by formal networks established with the intent of fostering creativity and innovation. Rather than being locked down in secretive labs with obsessive individual trial and error, innovation has opened up. Organizations, from businesses to universities to municipalities to philanthropies, have adopted the open innovation process, and sometimes the networks of innovators cross over these organizational types.
Why is this happening? It works. Innovation is in the headlines more than ever, largely due to disruptive business models and products. And with the speed of technology advancements, there is a common expert opinion that innovation is a necessity for both competitive advantage on the business level and the resolution of critical challenges at the societal level. However, in the past, most who had a potential contribution to advance and idea from conception to fruition were left out.
Open innovation opens the door to a broader set of contributors. This takes the concept of crowd sourcing and applies it to very specific problems or opportunities. And it speeds up the whole cycle. Of course, there are times during the product development lifecycle that a certain level of intellectual property protection is warranted. That does not necessarily go away completely, but I have clients that actively seek input from their customers for product innovation. This is a common example of expanding the process beyond the four walls of R&D.
What can you do in your company? There are two paths that I see organizations increasingly taking—enterprise level open innovation programs and technology-led innovation programs.
Enterprise level open innovation is essentially taking the suggestion box and transforming it with a combination of nuclear power and steroids. There are several key elements needed for this to work. First, innovation must be made a priority and woven into the culture, which means having policies and rewards that encourage the process. Second, it is critical that tools and skills are provided to assist with the entire process, from ideation to execution. For all of this to actually work, we are finding that a formal innovation program driven by an innovation center of excellence (CoE) is the common thread of success.
At the center of the Innovation CoE is the network of potential ideators. It is the people who drive the innovation engine, but a great way to fuel the people power is with automation that supports collaboration between individuals and helps to track the idea from inception to fruition. Extending that network beyond the organizational boundaries of traditional product development is where the open part comes in. Any employee can have input, from ideation all the way through the delivery of a new product or business. Likewise, partners, customers or even subject matter experts from universities or other knowledge sources can join the network. That is openness exemplified.
Do you run an IT function? You can use this same concept with technology-led innovation and develop an Innovation CoE inside the IT function. This is a rapidly growing competency, and follows the same principles as enterprise-level open innovation. One major difference is the need for building out competencies, such as rapid prototyping or the ability to deliver proof-of-concept projects on emerging technology. Agility is a key capability in moving from ideation to application.
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