What could possibly go wrong with open innovation?

Photo:Ryan McGuire © pexels.com

Everyone understands the value and promise of open innovation in the business world – from brand awareness and customer engagement through to the search for fresh answers. But, truth be told, most programmes are failing to deliver results because their dynamics are too complex and the processes used are proving inefficient. A lack of relevance is also strongly affecting returns.

What is happening then? Resources are spent – time, money and stakeholder engagement. Companies find themselves trapped in a two-dimensional twilight zone:

  • In time: without appropriately defined structures, open innovation programmes drag on endlessly; bureaucracy and hierarchies pile up and the initiative loses its impetus and fades away.
  • In space: on the one hand, the initiative’s goal line may prove irrelevant to targeted participants; on the other hand,the real outputs are meagre and don’t seem to fit with the organisation – what real uses can this solution have and who can implement it and where?

The ultimate consequences are emptiness and frustration. Programmes under the open innovation umbrella end up losing credibility with both participants and leadership and undermining future initiatives.

The fallacies

Just a little over two decades ago, engaging external stakeholders was a rare thing. Now, open innovation is trendy. Many organisations worldwide are doing it … whatever it is.

Although the idea goes back to the 60s, Henry Chesbrough, faculty director of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California, coined the expression in 2003. He defined it as ‘a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas, as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology’.

Companies have now realised that approaches similar to this can give them a distinct competitive advantage. The term is being adopted in different contexts, to serve different purposes – with fuzzy interpretations. However, under no circumstance is open innovation:

  • A cheap source of ideas
  • A communication exercise
  • An automatic and self-running procedure

It is borne out of strategic thinking and perfected by practice. No common sense recipe can fully cover all the difficulties such programmes entail.

Pedro da Cunha, Exago’s CEO and co-founder

Open innovation is no self-fulfilling prophecy
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