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Many companies have a website encouraging others to “submit their ideas – we’re open for innovation.” Open Innovation now is widespread but like the  very word innovation, Open innovation is also subject to misunderstanding.

Since 2003 when Henry Chesbrough packaged Open Innovation, it has spread from the very largest companies to SMEs, from high tech to medium and low tech, and across industry sectors.

Open Innovation: Seeing Further

In other words you don’t have to be a big hi-tech company to collaborate with others in your innovation ecosystem.

In fact OI has been around for a while. If you want to see an example of an early case study in OI go and see Abraham Darby’s Ironbridge in Shropshire, UK, which relied on advanced material and construction technologies of the time – 1779.

The latest call for your ideas comes from Johnson Matthey – with eXovation which appears to be an OI-light platform. Light in the sense that it calls only for ideas from outside of the company, in. And light in that OI operates in three main modes: attracting ideas, from the outside-in, divesting ideas from the inside-out and in combination.

But in a change programme like moving from Closed to Open, an organization needs to be in the right place for change.

For companies looking to Go Open, what factors do you need to consider?

  1. Top management commitment – it seems somewhat trite to say this, but a major shift like going Open can be seismic for some companies. So without empowered change agents, it can quickly be consumed by business as usual. Going Open can be a major shock to Closed business units in a larger corporation.
  2. Systems of Governance – if you are shifting how you make decisions, allocate resources, and handling knowledge, you’re going to need to alter how the business is organized and make that clearly understood.
  3. Tools and Techniques – OI needs a different, but complementary skill set, and staff need to be trained and savvy in using this toolkit. A hammer is just a hammer, but it can do a lot of damage in the wrong hands!
  4. Have a strategy for Open innovation – what areas are ripe for operating in an Open way? Probably starting in new markets and new technologies where there is a lack of competitive advantage. This OI strategy must make sense, and be clearly deployed and then acted upon.
  5. Fitness in dealing with partners – the new skill set is about relationship management for partners. Who are you working with? Why? How? Here, corporate legal needs to work out how IPR strategy fits OI – from a closed culture that is almost a 180degree turn.
  6. Culture – the how we do things round here piece. If how you do things is rooted in Closed innovation, you have a significant job to shift the culture. Non-urgent change without a burning platform can be one of the most difficult.

Mindset as Culture: How to Shift

Here are seven things for a business to consider in successfully shifting to Open.

  1. Conduct a root and branch evaluation of where your business is on the Closed to Open spectrum. The Open Innovation Maturity Framework is a useful guide.
  2. Train key staff in the principles of your OI programme – you may also need to train them on Innovation Management in the first place…
  3. Run a series of well-constructed OI projects and critically evaluate performance of the project and the organization.
  4. Create a strategy for Open Innovation including key people from the wider organization – and disseminate.
  5. Install OI Champions in a community of practice – and give them teeth…
  6. …to remove blockers and make sure the right people are on the bus.
  7. Create a new set of incentives to encourage and reward OI behaviour and reduce Closed behaviours. This is a critical role of the Open Innovation Champion – visible consistency is vital – you only have one shot!

Setting up a Portal may be the right thing to do, but it is not the first thing to do.

You have to be OI Ready first.

Welcome to the era of collaboration – going Open is a no brainer.

ABOUT – Rob Munro is Principal Consultant at The Growth Engine and specialises in helping organizations with their move to Open Innovation and building competitive innovation systems.

Rob Munro

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