A meeting of European (Innovation) Minds

At the end of March the European Innovation Conference brought together senior executives from Europe's leading firms. Paul Hobcraft who was at the meeting of innovators describes the outputs.

European Innovation Conference @Legoland, Billund, Denmark 29th-31st March 2011

Background to the conference

Axel Roseno (www.innovationroundtable.com), the chairman of the conference (www.eic2011.com) offered up a well structured conference in collaboration with Reg X- the Danish Cluster Academy (www.regx.dk ). What did we learn?

The gathering was an exclusive platform of innovation practitioners from large corporations in Europe with a host of well-known speakers from Airbus, AkzoNobel, Alcatel, Bombardier, Daimler, Danisco, DSM, Ericsson, GE, Google, Groundfos, IBM, Lego, Nokia, Novozymes, Philips, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, Unilever, Vestas, and Xerox and a number of other sponsors, expert, research  and academic speakers to fill all three days. I think there must have been 200 odd attendees, including speakers to give it a really diverse, engaged group.

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Henry Chesbrough was the guest keynote speaker and I had a couple of good opportunities to talk with him and will be publishing my interview with him separately. His presentations re-affirmed much of what has gone on in open innovation and he began to introduce his new book on “Open Innovation Services” which I’ve previously reviewed here for innovationmanagement.se.

My one real regret from his key note introduction was that he did not get into the completely new open proposition his book begins to lay out –a new super system for open service innovation- for the audience to grasp this, a real pity. Still everyone who was attending did get a copy of his book so hopefully they will spend the time reading it as it does lay out his thoughts on how open innovation is moving onto the next plain in very different ways.

Two themes for the conference

The themes of the conference (actually all three days) were around open innovation and new business creation. There are many issues still need to be bridged around these two topics and as we were often reminded throughout the conference “building new knowledge does often get sidetracked” and many of our current business issues simply just can’t be addressed by “business-as-usual”.

Theme one- New Business Creation

The mantra of “Explore- Experiment –Expand” was offered up as emerging groups dedicated to Business development and creation are certainly pushing beyond their cores within many organizations.

Many are still grappling with working through the external relationship needed to bring the outside-in, others dealing with the different dynamics of emerging business and mature business. Some of the speakers offered parallel organizations to manage this; others felt it was better to not have this process separated out to reduce the risk of ‘not invented here syndrome. Either way the difficulty is how do you stimulate, embrace and nurture new business? There were plenty of different views on show and being experimented with. The conference achieved a good cross section of these differences and raised this in its future importance to find new ways to grow your business and protect some of the ‘fledglings’ that need different judgement than if the main business groups simply might be left to handle these and apply often much harder metrics than ideal for these emerging opportunities.

One outstanding presentation was the Philips presentation by Corina Kuiper, Senior Director, New Business Development. I really felt this set the scene in this area of getting organized for business creation. She lead with a very novel theme “the Art of Dealing with Teenagers”- the big company syndrome of why large companies like babies and adults, but don’t know how to deal with teenagers and have real difficulty in nurturing break-away innovations. Corina also provided a helpful insight into how the BD group in Philips manages the ‘granularity of innovation’ and their incubation through different entities and framework approaches and a disruptive/ lifecycle matrix.

Theme two- Open Innovation

Coming to the conference I had felt open innovation was at a far more maturing point. This does not seem to be the case by all accounts from what I heard. One clear take away from this conference is it is far from that maturing point, in some ways I’d say it is fragmenting even more, experimenting and OI’s open interpretation seems to be very individual. One OI solution does not seemly fitting all. In Henry Chesbrough’s words, the keynote speaker, “he would never have imagined the movement and force of OI or how rich it has become and useful in ways he never imagined” when he originally wrote his first book on OI in 2003/04.

There is such diversity I would agree.

I often wonder what happened before Open Innovation- were we not dealing with the outside world, I think so! OI has become a ‘catch all’ and I honestly feel we are not leveraging as much of the original ‘power’. For example inside-out is still very much treated as the poor cousin within open innovation. I’m equally not sure we have found a common language or acceptance even among the practitioners at this conference, again an example: where does the front end really start, insight or ideas? For me ideas are more in the middle not at the (fuzzy) front end. Ideas coming into the OI funnel need to be far more refined today. That always derives a healthy debate. For open innovation to leverage everything it can potentially offer I do think it needs a clearer translation so many still struggling with this concept can feel equipped to join the party.

Under this broad OI banner we had a variety of open innovation presentations that dealt with everything around OI. These covered idea management, partnership approaches and different examples, alliance management, software solutions, internal benchmarking of research centres around the world and their interface with external parties, spin outs, university collaborations, different cultural aspects, customer centric innovation, proposition development, crowd sourcing, stage gate process management, community approaches, dealing with failure rates etc., etc.

Henry Chesbrough made a comment ‘there are lots of evangelists’ at the conference but there must be many more companies not attending that are still trying to get their head around open innovation and what it really does mean for them. I found it often hard to pick my way through all the variations offered here.

I did pick up on a comment made by Dr Monica Beltrametti, VP for Xerox Research Centre in Europe, in her presentation when she said “we at Xerox needed a framework that had more rigour in”. This was to improve on the traditional depiction of the linear funnel, closely associated with OI. Xerox’s framework covers enhancement variants, more emphasis of the understanding and exploitation going on behind new platforms with external partners, and the positioning and scouting options. Each needed more assessing of the risks associated with projects moving more away from the core, more in the adjacencies. That ‘missing rigour’ stuck with me as a key takeaway.

Summing up the conference

The key insights mentioned were:

  • Regarding new business creation, the question was how to find a balance between radical innovation and core business?
  • Need to have a framework with the right attention from top management. People sometimes forget that process is “not only cosmetics”.
  • Implementation is individual – there is no magic potion that fits all.
  • Key words: involving people – empathy and understanding of what different people can give you.
  • When stepping back and looking where we are, it is still very messy – we are not quite there yet.

From Henry Chesbrough

  • Red line across all topics: with the change and value of the use of the Business Model : exploration and inertia issues.
  • Discovered just how rich Open Innovation is. Alive and growing thanks to people putting it to action. Useful in ways he never imagined.
  • The role of social innovation – emerging markets and sustainability- next year’s theme perhaps?

Axel Roseno- the conference organizer

  • Very happy with the amount of engagement in discussions and the active participation of everyone.

So a good conference, lots of positive energy and aspects surrounding open innovation and new business creation that gave those that attended plenty to think over as they left Billund, with the first hint of spring.

Finally I’d like to acknowledge the help of Karin Gylin of Altran for her thoughts and insights also for this article.

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author:


Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation Specialists; an advisory business that focuses on stimulating sound innovation practice. He helps build innovation capability and capacity for organisations, teams and individuals. Agility Innovation research topics that relate to innovation for the future, applying the learning to further develop organizations core innovation activity, offer appropriate advice on tools, techniques and frameworks.

Paul´s personal journey has been varied, challenging but fun. This has taken him to live and work in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Malaysia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, USA, Australia, and recently eleven years in Singapore. Paul is based in Switzerland and presently focuses his time between Asia and Europe. Welcome to read more at: www.agilityinnovation.com

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