I think it’s inevitable that if open innovation is to be successful, there are skills and practices we must all try to improve constantly.
Here are three fundamental aspects to everyday work that I think are essential to open innovation:
Connectivity is the mothership from which everything else originates. We’re inspired by what we see others are able to do, and what they’re not able to do. If we are well connected in a diverse network, we can translate problem-solving methods from one business sector or specialist area to another. People who are connected with several, different, diverse networks are at higher risk of having a good idea, because they’re familiar with several different problem-solving cultures: they can re-mix and adapt all those different approaches to find an answer. (For more on this phenomenon, see Prof Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business).
As Annalee Saxenian famously said, innovation is a contact sport. One person might have an idea on their own, but it always takes a collaborating team of people to turn it into a product – researchers, investors, advisors, manufacturers, end-users and so on. To be a great business partner, we need to deliver what we promise, and never over-promise; we need to give credit where it’s due; we need to give something away in order to get something back. And the better connected we are, the more likely we are to find the right collaborators each time.
Challenge in two senses. Firstly, the value of open innovation challenges to generate ideas – the crowdsourcing competitions that are often at the heart of open innovation in practice. Secondly, the fact that if you’re connected to a diverse network then you can make sure that a promising idea gets challenged from multiple angles – and that’s how we turn a good idea into a great one.
These three aspects of everyday work are our supply depot for everything we need to make open innovation work. Our individual success will depend on the extent to which we make a conscious effort to always improve our skills at opportunity-spotting, problem-solving, and collaborating with other people in a way that makes them want to work with us again. Connections, collaborations and challenges are all fundamental to that success.
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