The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next?

20 04 2011

This last week I was at the Marcus Evans Open Innovation Conference giving a presentation on “The Next Evolution of Openness” – Getting back on the speaking circuit finally gave me a little thinking time away from building a rapidly growing consulting practice at my new company Spigit and I wanted to share with you some of the key points of that talk over the next few blog posts.

Things change quickly in the Innovation world – and as I was writing the title of the presentation I was struggling whether the word “evolution” was quite the right one – maybe “Revolution” would’ve been a better word to use in the circumstances.

There’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of “May you live in interesting times” – and I don’t think that times get any more interesting than the business environment we currently find ourselves in.

We live in a time of massive change – both in terms of the size of changes we’re asked to take on, and the frequency with which change now happens.

The recent financial depression has had profound consequences on the businesses that survived. We’ve come out the other end to a world that demands greater accountability, greater participation, and greater transparency than ever before. We’re in the middle of a social revolution where the strength is slowly moving away from corporations and moving into to the hands of the consumer. Where power is moving from the Core of a company to its “Edges”.

As a result, businesses are waking up (rudely in some cases) to a new way of working, a new way of organizing, and a new brand of leadership. Innovation, as a corporate discipline is no different.

Indeed, if we look at the history of Innovation over the years, there are definite trends to be seen:

We started with the lone inventor, working alone to build an advantage that no one else could copy.

If one bright person could achieve an advantage, it didn’t take rocket science to realize that maybe we could put several bright people in the same room and multiply the effect – so we built R&D labs to take advantage of that.

R&D labs worked well, so we started wondering if anyone else in the company had useful input too – so we invented the suggestion box as a corporate tool.

The advent of technology brought with it the ability to ask a broader range of employees than ever before – reaching out across business silos and traditional geographic boundaries to grab ideas wherever they lay. We started putting effective processes around the use of the technology and Idea Management came about.

Innovation Management came along when we then figured out that ideas without execution were worthless – so we changed to focus on an end to end process that drove the ideas we were collecting all the way through a formal pipeline to execution and thus started creating an engine for creating new value for corporations.

Collaborative Innovation brought in the concept that people could add value even if they didn’t have an idea themselves. We started using leading edge social technologies to allow people to work together on building ideas together and driving new levels of value creation.

Open Innovation brought in the idea that the best ideas didn’t necessarily (and probably didn’t) reside solely within the corporate four walls.  So we started to look at sourcing ideas from anywhere and everywhere outside of our  own organizations.

We then reevaluated the innovation process – realizing what was really at the heart of our activities was a robust problem solving process and so collaborative problem solving became the big focus.

When we started considering Innovation as a problem solving process we also then realized that the applicability of what we were doing became broader – we could now push a flow of new ideas across the entire enterprise, building a cultural shift of not just reacting to, but actively driving massive continuous change at all times – We created Enterprise-wide Social Innovation.

So, what’s the next step I hear you ask? For me – it’s realizing that maybe even problems aren’t the right focus – that maybe, just maybe, we need to embrace the larger social revolution and realize that we’re on the brink of a new future for business as a whole.

That future sees companies using Innovation as the gateway drug on their route to incorporating broad level social feedback and input across every aspect of the enterprise.

That future sees us bringing in and co-creating with the masses to create the ultimate engagement model with would-be customers – that of a conspirator or co-owner in the very business they helped to create.

Maybe then, it’s not Innovation that should be Open – but rather Business as a whole.

If  we just follow the trends from the timeline above, we see that there has always been value in building our companies outwards. That there has always been value in continuously increasing the number of people in “the room”, in increasing the transparency of the organization, in pulling the outside in, and ultimately in the engaging, at scale, the broader world around us.

That the leaders amongst us are those who are continuously exploring the boundaries of their companies and learning how to embrace the fringes and edges to drive value at the core.  

Could this be the Open Business revolution at last?

I look forward to reading your thoughts 🙂



15 responses

20 04 2011
Todd Boone

Interesting article and I agree with your thoughts. In fact, at Psion, we have been restructuring our business around this premise of “open business” over the last 18 months. In addition to pursuing the “outside-in” methodology of open innovation, we have extended this “openness” to the company as a whole. It’s part of our values, part of our strategy and affects each and every department, including finance, operations, HR marketing etc.

For us, the driver is accountability to our customers and parters. Operating openly enforces this. And in return, we look to earn the trust of those we do business with.

So, interesting article and I must say it resonates with how we are thinking here.

21 04 2011
Nancy Pekar

At Fuentek we too have been working in a more open manner, as evidenced by our blog: In fact, our company president wrote a post back in February called “Putting the ‘Open’ in Open Services Innovation” about exactly this idea:

Want a recent example? We recently held a webinar about using social media in technology transfer. During it, I was tweeting the presenters’ hints, advice, and other tidbits. I later got a nice e-mail from someone who pointed out that, although the tweets were great (blush!), we were giving away our own trade secrets to our competitors. Maybe so. But as Laura said in her post, being open and sharing about the how-to’s helps the entire tech transfer industry innovate.

BTW, if you’re interested in reading those tweets, search for the #socialwave hashtag or check out our feed at @fuentek.)

21 04 2011

Maybe I am just a skeptic but I don’t see a general openness.

At least in America, the economic distance between the “haves” and the “have nots” is getting ever wider. Those at the very top demand more and more. They CANNOT afford to be too open or too accessible, because the jealousy will not tolerate the current situation.

The joke goes around that an Executive, a Tea Partier and a Public Union person were at a table on which were 10 cookies. The Executive took 9 cookies and told the Tea Partier “Watch out! The public union wants some of your cookie!” That situation does not allow for openness.

News sources are starved for resources. TV starved its news so badly that people went to the internet for information, which was “free” with ads, but the quality is hard to determine, and people often post or say things which are not true, sometimes even knowing they are not true (Google “not meant to be factual”). In paper news sources, the amount of news got smaller and more fragmented across pages, and the amount of advertising got bigger and glossier and more intrusive.

If, instead of the evolution of business, we were talking about the evolution of advertising, of different ways to convince people to spend money, then, yes, I would say it is harder and harder to avoid hearing from someone who wants your money. Public TV and Radio now have ads. Movies have product placements. Cartoons are ads for toys in disguise. Billboards are electronic so that when stuck in traffic you can be exposed to a variety of people who want your money, instead of just one. Government funded public transport has ads. Network neutrality is nonexistant on mobile devices, so only those to pay for access by users get access, and they think it is worth paying. Rooftops have ads.

More and more people start businesses because that is the only way that they can see themselves being employed, because those who say they want to fill jobs make demands so extreme that no proper candidates can be found (for example, 2 years of experience and paid expertise in these 57 different technologies). Everywhere people socialize, even online, such as Facebook, there is someone trying to get you to spend money on them.

American elections violate the international treaties it signed by making it so hard for people to get onto the ballot if they are not Democrats or Republicans, that they have no money or volunteer time left to run for office afterwards.

American Defense budget is such a mess that an audit is not possible.

That’s not my idea of openness. It’s a pervasive worship of money and exclusivity.

27 04 2011
Jean Latting

I stumbled across this article and am glad I found it. Your thoughts here are worth reading and sharing.

5 05 2011
John Michitson


MITRE’s innovation brokering research is evolving to an even more open or visible paradigm. We found that to motivate broad and diverse participants, you need an on-line capability that is easy to register and use, topics that are relevant and compelling, and features that add value, such as matching people to people, ideas to ideas and people to ideas. You also need to integrate on-line tools with face-to-face events to build trust and reputation. You need diverse incentives. But most of all, to collaborate, you need to be visible. So, we are trying to leverage an open ecosystem of participants by engaging in a virtual trade show. We pose challenges and encourage participants to submit visible ideas at the level of information that they provide on their company web site or at trade shows, except that it is focussed on our challenge. This spawns otherwise unlikely partnerships and solutions, as well as revised needs and challenges. It also enables us to “clear the brush” of irrelevant ideas. Once the first bar is reached, then the participants have the option of responding privately to us, under NDA if preferred. We are just kicking off this new approach. Your thoughts?

5 05 2011
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks for the comments all – some great insights in there and good to hear of several companies already embracing the Open Business movement – I have no doubt you’ll be leading the next wave of corporate innovation in doing so.

Mary-Anne, although I appreciate your comments and the time taken to eloquently put out your argument, I’m not entirely sure we’re talking about the same topic – my post was referring more to the influx of social input into companies, not the general pervasiveness of commercialism in today’s consumer environment – regardless, thank you for your comments.

John – love your overview of the requirements for motivating and engaging broad and diverse participants. I would maybe amend the need to integrate online with face to face as a nice-to-have rather than as a “need” – look at some of the higher profile tweet chats (#smchat and #innochat are my favourites) as proof that one can exist without the other if the incentive to take part (in this case shared learning and a chance to debate ideas with fellow practitioners) is strong enough.

I love that MITRE’s always trying out new tools and technologies (including Spigit 🙂 ) – so I’m hardly surprised that you’re looking at virtual trade shows – assume you’re working with one of the main vendors such as Unisfair? My own personal feelings around virtual trade shows (and I add the disclaimer that I’ve only ever had demos of this kind of technology, and have yet to actually attend/hold a virtual conference) – is that the technology, whilst cool looking, kind of gets in the way of the task at hand. Having a second-life like environment doesn’t make you/your ideas any more visible than a standard avatar and a well constructed ideation tool. I’m not sure I understand how this would spawn unlikely partnerships and solutions any more so than any other option either. Surely the driver for all kinds of interactions to emerge derive from the questions/challenges you ask rather than just the medium?

The advantage I do see you getting from using this kind of environment though is one of “uniqueness” – you essentially have an entertainment factor that differentiates you from the world of web pages that most people live in day in/day out (and in doing so, you engage a core game dynamic) – whilst that may lead to a short term lift in engagement (until the novelty wears off), I don’t see it aiding the process of innovation and collaboration in any long term fashion personally.

Would love to see the system you’re building though – as you know, am always interested in the leading edge, and MITRE’s always pushing that! 🙂

6 05 2011

Perhaps I did misunderstand what you were talking about.

How does the Google idea of allowing employees to do as they please for some fraction of their time enter into what you mean? I don’t know whether it is a result of the unusual quality of the Google employees, but that idea seems to be extremely successful.

13 05 2011
George Levy

Excellent article Boris and enough substance in there to expand to a full book (hint, hint…)

I like your reframing as perhaps businesses needing to be more open rather than just focusing on “open innovation.” That’s a very powerful thought, and judging from the comment threads, definitely lends itself to having an open discussion. Thanks for opening this space for discussion!

16 05 2011
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks George! Am making my bid to move from Featured Blogger to Featured Speaker at the HSM conferences (hint, hint…) 😉

24 05 2011
Innovation Training

The ‘Open Business Revolution’ has been tinkering on the edge of mainstream business culture for a few years now.

However, some of the large multinationals that market themselves as innovation leaders have some of the most bureaucratic systems I have ever come across – Yes, they have a suggestion box – Yes, they send their individuals on basic Innovation Management courses…

When Frank in the technical department comes up with a great idea – he gets pushed aside as the R&D for the idea is too ‘time consuming’ or ‘costly’ – but actually means that it has to be brought before 16 different line managers, 3 financial managers, seven 185 page documents have to be submitted – and of course the ever present legal team.

If the so called ”Open Business Revolution’ is to really kick off, it is top level management that needs to streamline the system so that individuals or teams are easily able to present their ideas to the ivory tower.

A good example of the open business revolution is in the .com industry – Google, Facebook etc.

29 07 2011
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[…] The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next? […]

15 09 2011
International Patent (@PatentOffice)

he search for innovative ideas has never been easy, but the advent of crowdsourcing technologies and powerful players willing to embrace new methodologies seems to be paying dividends. Rather than rely on traditional innovation that comes from one individual or a small group of individuals or those working for or with a single entity or as part of a joint venture, crowdsourcing technologies take problems to millions of people and capture the most creative solutions, allowing them to be pursued and developed. “Opening up the conversation and searching for solutions among a broad, but qualified, audience has allowed us to find unique, innovative ideas in a short period of time.

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