It’s open innovation. What could possibly go wrong?

Some open innovation experiments are more successful than others. Here are 3 common areas where companies run into trouble trying to implement it.

Some open innovation experiments are more successful than others. Here are 3 common areas where companies run into trouble trying to implement it.

Several years ago, a handful of consumer products companies were taking their first, tenuous steps in the open innovation field. Now, as this paradigm shift has taken hold, it is becoming increasingly rare to find a consumer packaged goods firm that isn’t pursuing proactive, external partnering activity. I genuinely believe that corporate open innovation is here to stay.

As with most new endeavors, and especially those requiring a fair degree of careful planning and close coordination, some initial open innovation experiments have been more successful than others. I have seen and been personally involved in a number of successful open innovation initiatives. I’ve also experienced some initial OI endeavors that didn’t work so well.

It is in the spirt of “smart failing” that I shre the following watchouts for those firms still inching their way toward the open innovation pond.

The candy store syndrome: This common phemonema involves the inbounding of a stream of really stimulating technology (and new product) opportunities, but without a well-defined, commonly accepted filter for sifting through the inputs.

Lesson: When all things are possible, nothing is. Establish criteria for scouting and technology option screening. Don’t automatically rule out serendipitous opportunities, but treat them as exceptions.

Walk before you run: This lesson should probably be obvious to anyone who has ever undertaken any new approach or process. It is smarter to implement, and then build on modest successes, than to go “all in” immediately. When the heat is on to deliver on tight timing, teams will tend to seek out more readily available, less risky (but also less innovative) alternatives. As a result, it is advisable to get initial OI learnings on projects that don’t have tight deadlines, versus making a project’s success highly dependent upon successful external partnerships.

No vested interest: This topic is not unique to open innovation, but it is highly relevant in this context. An extremely important aspect of my work is the collaborative interaction that occurs as client teams discuss the new product opportunities inspired by the technology options we’ve collected. This is a highly productive dynamic when all of the stakeholders are focused on identifying and validating the best overall solutions, instead of being recognized as the individual who generated it.

There is no question that project champions are integral to the innovation process. Without them, ideas that still require incubation and nurturing can be easily picked off by nay-sayers. That said, project champions can at times be seen as overly protective of their own ideas (which may or may not be the best idea available to the team).

My sense is that this challenge can be addressed via the means by which innovation team member performance is evaluated, incentivized and rewarded. Also, by introducing objective means of screening new opportunities.

In summary, open innovation and other external collaborative variants represent the new paradigm for product development. As with most new undertakings, along with successes, there are going to be some initial false steps. Hopefully, your company can avoid some of the ones highlighted above, by treading carefully and thoughtfully.