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At one point, I found myself at a table with attendees from Kimberly-Clark, Cooper Tire, Gorton’s (the fish stick people!) and Becton-Dickinson, working on a group exercise on open innovation projects that worked and why. Clearly a diverse group.
Presenters included end users and practitioners across several industries, including consumer product, high-tech, medical device, pharmaceutical, food & beverage and manufacturing. We heard stories of success and failure around assessing, managing and protecting intellectual property (IP), partnership models to enable co-development with suppliers, inventors, entrepreneurs and universities, and a surprising spectrum of open innovation initiatives.
So what did I learn from all these case studies and experiences? Here are a few of the big themes.
Henry Chesbrough defined the concept in his 2003 book as a product or technology development model that extends beyond the boundaries of a firm to involve others in a collaborative way. Today, we may have some great new tools to help companies collaborate with partners, suppliers, educators, customers and others, but companies were doing this way before they could crowdsource new ideas or use on-line tools to solve challenges. Firms have been working for years to determine the best models and processes to use to figure out their open innovation strategy and form mutually beneficial co-development agreements that didn’t put their IP at risk. This whole area grew up driven by people concerned with IP protection and knowledge management, and even as some impressive new tools hit the market to help companies access innovation sources that weren’t previously available to them, companies that succeed are pragmatically and deliberately balancing the tradeoffs between the benefits of openness and the need to protect their assets.
Companies that are successful spend time building strong teams and establishing an open innovation culture. They assess the open innovation readiness of partners, people, processes, culture and metrics, and create comprehensive roadmaps for moving forward. They establish teams that are embedded into the business so they can understand strategy and market challenges to add business value. They pay attention to cultural issues like openness, trust, recognition and flexibility in IP ownership. They also recruit the right people with collaborative skills, internal influence, thick skin and strong communication abilities, and enable these people to succeed by dedicating them to open innovation, rather than allocating a percentage of their time. They develop advocates and catalysts from top to bottom in the organization to create a support framework that helped the projects succeed.
Even the most successful stories had a “but…” and even the best laid plans to engage internal and external sources to work together can stumble. Companies we heard from struggled with strategy, people & culture, processes, technology and sustainability. Those that succeeded went into it knowing it was going to be a learning process, and they had executive support to try initiatives, learn from them, improve and try again. How “open” a company needs to be is unique to them, and there’s a natural tension between the need to protect IP and the fact that there are problems that you simply can’t solve alone. But a false start doesn’t have to be a failure. Some of the best stories we heard took lessons learned and outlined creative new approaches make open innovation work.
The most interesting thing to me was that such a diverse group of IP patent lawyers, innovation leaders, product developers and marketing folks from a wide variety of industries were able to share and learn from each other.
What have you learned from your experiences with Open Innovation? What are your lessons learned? Have you looked to other industries to help inform your open innovation process?
Amy Kenly has over 14 years professional experience in innovation, product development and PLM. Kenly, a regular speaker and blogger on social product innovation, has been selected by PDMA to author a chapter on “Social Media and New Product Development” for the upcoming third edition of the PDMA Handbook on New Product Development. Kenly leads Kalypso’s Social Product Innovation practice, which has recently published the white paper “Social Media and Product Development: Early Adopters Reaping Benefits amidst Challenge and Uncertainty.” To access the white paper and research findings, visit kalypso.com/spike.