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Lessons From the Front Lines of Open Innovation

Maintaining an online community is much more time-consuming — and not as easy — as you think.
How to foster open innovation
photo by flickr user woodleywonderworks

On paper, open innovation sounds unassailably appealing. Why should your organization have to innovate on its own? Why not attempt to mine the hearts and minds of your customers and other external stakeholders?

But as with most things in business, the dilemma is in the details of execution. Which is why we were thrilled to find the blog of Stefan Lindegaard (@lindegaard), a Copenhagen-based author, speaker and strategic adviser. Lindegaard has posted several compelling pieces on 15inno.com about the execution challenges of open innovation and the lessons that executives — at companies like General Mills, Lego, P&G, Philips, Psion, Siemens, and Unilever — have learned in the process. Here’s a sampling. We encourage you to click over to 15inno.com to learn more.

Todd Boone, formerly the director of open innovation at Psion, says companies should: (1) not underestimate how much work it is to launch an online community; and (2) get over their fear of “letting go,” because letting go is the only path to authenticity.

“It’s a lot of work to get a community like this off the ground and then evolving as the environment changes. We have already done three major redesigns of the site, including site architecture, based on changes in how users interact with the site,” he tells Lindegaard.

“Also, companies need to get over their fear of ‘letting go’ of control. Within Psion, there was much consternation over what would happen when we just let customers, partners, and employees post freely on the site — without work flow and without approvals. But we did. And, in my opinion, this is absolutely critical. A community, and social media in general, needs to be authentic. You can’t PR it, and you can’t just get rid of the little bits that annoy you, because if you did, your social media credibility would be gone in a heartbeat. . . .

“People tend to self-censure when they are representing themselves professionally — regardless if they are a customer, partner, or employee — and this has made the moderation of the site much less intensive than first expected. And when somebody does raise a sensitive issue, you learn as a company that it’s not the end of the world and you deal with the issue. In the end, people tend to be happy that they were heard and that their problem was solved.”



The concept of open innovation has gained increasing traction over the last decade. Back in 2003, Henry Chesbrough, a professor at University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, described it like this:

“The internally oriented, centralized approach to R&D is becoming obsolete in many industries. Useful knowledge is widely disseminated, and ideas must be used with alacrity. If not, they will be lost. Such factors create a new logic of open innovation, in which the role of R&D extends far beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Specifically, companies must now harness outside ideas to advance their own businesses while leveraging their internal ideas outside their current operations. That fundamental change offers novel ways to create value — along with new opportunities to claim portions of that value.”

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