What does open innovation mean?
Open innovation refers to the ambition, structure and effort of companies to look for technical ideas, solutions and technologies outside their own organization.
Why do companies "open innovate"?
- Find startup companies for inspiration, collaboration, and/or acquisition
- Find scientific research (groups) as knowledgable input
- Find patents that give clues about competitors innovation efforts.
- Find collaborations with companies to combine Research & Development (R&D) efforts.
- Do strategic procurement: make sure your technology buying choices are the best available.
How does open innovation work?
Let them come to you; crowdsourcing
Some companies have a very strong position to let people come to them. They are adaptive and in a position that people with clever ideas will contact them to bring their inventions forward. There are crowdsourcing platforms to help these organizations structure the massive amount of ideas coming in. In these platforms companies describe their challenges, and people can suggest ideas to make it happen. Examples include the platforms of Unilever, & NASA.
Some organizations have periodical challenges. In the Netherlands, chemical giant Nouryon has an annual Imagine Chemistry award for startups with ideas for their paint business. Furthermore, X-prices are organized to build awareness around a necessary topic. Like astroid mining, or building a hyperloop. By promoting a global challenge like this, people from all over the world will start working on solving problems and send you their ideas.
You find them; technology scouting
Technology scouting is the method of actively searching for technologies that can help you innovate. There are a couple of technology scouting intensities:
- In house technology scouting team: world leading innovative companies often have a central technology scouting team. This R&D-centered team helps other R&D-departments find technological opportunities. They have the skills, tools and time to find technologies for other R&D-colleagues that don't have the time or expertise to dive into patents, scientific publications and other databases themselves. People working in these department are often an expert in the technical fields of the company and are exceptionally well equiped to search in clever ways using clever tools. The benefits of an in-house technology scouting team are speed of service, maximum confidentiality, previous knowledge about company solutions.
- Technology scouting when needed: As an R&D-engineer you most of the times work on solving different versions of previous problems. Sometimes, however you cross topics and challenges that are new. In that case you need to actively scout technologies. You are likely to spend about 10% of your time searching for technologies to solve a clear question. Channels you might use; search engines, contacting suppliers, talking to experts, going to conferences/fairs. Alternatively, you can let others scout for your challenge by defining a clear scope and get an intern or professional technology scouting firm help you out.
- Scatter scouting: Technology developments are accelerating. To stay up to date with the push from upcoming technologies you receive newsletters, follow channels on LinkedIn, go to startup fairs, and talk to fellow innovators in related industries. This will inspire you to think about applications of new technologies in your innovation areas.
Structure the open innovation funnel
What do these four phases mean in the R&D context?
- Gather challenges: Creatively unveiling and describing where opportunities are. What are the boundaries and where can you cross them? In this phase, you need creative people who know which questions to ask and determine what the technology should do.
- Scope and scout: Start talking, listening and reading. What technologies are out there? Where can I find it? Who has it? You might even consider using AI-tools to find technologies. In this phase, you need open-minded people that are willing to think outside the box.
- Develop or acquire: Onboard the technology. In R&D it can be hard to get the technologies you know exist. Someone has the intellectual property or thinks you are not big enough to use their technology. In this phase, you need people that are business case thinkers and can convince people both internal and external.
- Implement: Once you implement the technology, you have to manage the operations by using metrics and tools. Moreover, you have to make sure you protect your know-how and make sure the information does not get lost. In this phase, you need people specialized in efficiency and operations.
This model is inspired by the Want, Find, Get, Manage model designed by Gene Slowinski and Matthew Sagal in the article “Good practices in Open Innovation” and is now used by R&D professionals worldwide to structure and communicate their Open Innovation process.