Insights and themes about Fortune 500 company innovation from the 2008 Open Innovation Conference

Authored by Darin Eich, Ph.D., President of BrainReactions

I attended this conference as a media partner from BrainReactions and and set out to identify some overarching themes about the current state of open innovation for large organizations. “Advance innovative ideas through partner collaboration and co-development” was the theme of this 2008 Marcus Evans conference. The workshop tracks were labeled “dismantling the ‘not invented here’ mentality” and “establishing a culture that values open innovation at every level’. Some themes that emerged from the conference presentations from innovators like P&G, IBM, Clorox, Pepsico, Kraft, and others include:

1. Open innovation is a very new concept and most companies are just adopting it and learning it. This means there are a lot of failures and process improvements right now and the success stories are just starting. Even P&G which is recognized as a top open innovator is still on the journey and learning.

2. P&G is a leader. Other companies that want to be better at open innovation appear to recruit P&G innovation professionals to work for them thus gaining that knowledge and experience to apply within their own organization. I heard multiple instances of this during the conference. P&G really has an excellent reputation for open innovation with their “connect and develop” philosophy and mandate from the top to get half of their ideas from the outside.

3. Collaboration is critical. Most organizations are shifting to become more collaborative as this is key for open innovation. This also requires a culture shift and new skills to learn for innovators.

4. Suppliers and partners are key. Since much of the open innovation relies on the work of partners and suppliers, finding and assessing them is important to innovation success. Suppliers and partners can not only provide the idea but they can also help to develop the idea, provide the technology or knowledge to make it work, package it, or virtually anything else needed to create and launch a new product.

5. Searching is a key open innovation practice. Many of the organizations that presented today have a focus on searching for technologies and intellectual property that they can acquire to bring their ideas to market faster. This is much more efficient than creating the technology internally. Many examples in particular were given of product packaging that was found in Japan and licensed for use in the United States.

6. Open innovation is transformational and not transactional. Though you are relying on partners and suppliers to help you develop the idea you still must do much work to connect the supplier’s insights in and strengthen the relationship for the future. Open innovation should not be a transaction but rather a transformational experience that helps everyone learn how to innovate better and in new ways.

7. Open innovation is a result of desperation or challenges. Many of the organizations adopted open innovation because they had to. Their business was declining or they had to react to urgent challenges. For many this impetus for change ended up being positive because they launched an innovative new product (like Clorox Wipes) or gained a more efficient development process.

This article is part of the BrainWaves E-magazine on Innovation and Ideation

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