That is a question I found myself asking as I listened to some of the thought leaders in the field at the recent 5th annual Open Innovation Conference in Philadelphia. I travelled there with an open mind about the definitions and possibilities. From prior experience and research, I had some preconceived notions about what I would hear and believed OI to be comprised of many components. To some, OI might have the same meaning as open source or open innovation, collaborating on challenging problems and sharing solutions with anyone interested in applying them. To others it might mean creating partnerships with suppliers or strategic links with research universities or complementary players in target markets. And to still others, OI could relate somehow to opening the internal innovation process to customers and non-customers through the “cloud” by means of crowd sourcing, mob sourcing, social media and a host of other means made possible by the rapid advancement of internet capabilities.
As the conference wound down and I reflected on what I had heard, I was pleased that my prediction was correct and that depending on who you talk to, OI has widely different meaning and application throughout industry today. For example Clorox, a multinational consumer cleaning-product company, recognizes the need for creating value upstream, downstream, and through partnership. They take a win-balance approach meaning that, to be successful there must be value for everyone contributing to innovation. Upstream, suppliers are included in the Clorox development process and incentivized to actively contribute. Downstream, they look to involve end users through the use of crowd sourcing and initiatives such as Clorox Connect, a website separate from their corporate site, where anyone can contribute to new product ideas. To National Instrument and Tektronix, OI was the foundation for a partnership between these two industry leaders with complementary technologies for the same markets. By opening up their innovation processes they were able to combine their core competencies into a single revolutionary product. Sealed Air put together a program to look specifically at creating value from unused IP through license or other means. During the research phase in most companies, concepts are dismissed because the technology developed doesn’t meet the target requirements. The work is often novel and valuable but doesn’t fit the company goals at that time. Allowing others to use it is a good way to recover research costs.
Open innovation in its many embodiments is clearly here to stay. The enabling technologies that unleash the power of OI are advancing faster than most companies can keep up with. The ones that stay close to the leading edge will see a competitive advantage. Those that don’t will have to work harder to catch up. In the 3D printing world, the power of OI can be seen in knowledge sharing across the web. Open source sites are advancing capability, awareness, and accessibility. New use occasions and markets are benefiting solely from the desire to advance technology through knowledge. The old adage that knowledge is power is as true today as ever. But, a shift seems to have occurred from the realization that the knowledge of many is exponentially more powerful and useful than knowledge closed off to but a few.
I’m curious how others perceive OI. Is it a threat to competition? What does it mean in your organization?
I am responsible for leading 3D Systems content creation and capture activities and, in partnership with business and functional leaders, developing new opportunities for the company. I have held a variety of leadership positions in marketing and business development and most recently ran a $150MM division of Church & Dwight, a leading consumer goods company. Prior to receiving my M.B.A from Harvard Business School, I was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal company commander for the U.S. Army. I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.
- ▼ June (5)