The People Aspect of Open Innovation

Opportunities versus Threats

The People Aspect of Open Innovationby Stefan Lindegaard

In this blog post, Todd Boone, Director of Market Development at Psion shares some insights and experiences on the people aspect of open innovation.

As you can read below, Todd focuses on making people understand that open innovation offers more opportunities than threats. I think this is a great approach.

By the way, this blog post originates from an interview in which I asked Todd this question:

Can you give some insights on the people aspects of open innovation?

His reply:

The traditional corporate philosophy towards information is secrecy at all costs. Protect the intellectual property. We know best. All of these point to one essential tenet of open innovation – you must give up control. If you are not prepared to relinquish some control, you are destined to fail. And this is a tough thing to do for professionals who are used to solving things and used to being “right.” At first blush, they feel this is akin to a slap in the face that indicates a lack of confidence in their ability to create a solution on their own. To some, it diminishes their perceived value and this is something that organizations need to overcome.

There are a number of things that need to be done to help people understand that open innovation is not a threat, but rather an opportunity.

  • Restructure to Change – This a critical step to help change the mindset of the organization. We changed from a regionally-based model to a functionally-based model to eliminate unnecessary overlapping functions within regions and to ensure consistency throughout the organization. A regionally-based organization structure leaves too much room for different execution methodologies within the company. To ensure a successful shift to open innovation, we needed to make sure that the level of centralized control, and hence consistency, were higher.
  • Live the Values – This is also very important and starts from the top. Open innovation requires an “open” business that is open to new ideas, willing to take calculated risks, comfortable if not all ideas are internal and the courage to act in new ways. This starts with the CEO, but includes the entire executive suite; frankly, if key leaders are not on board, this permeates into their organization in a negative way. However, if the leaders live the values, it makes it much easier for their respective teams to also get on board and embrace the change to open innovation as well as the constant opportunity for change that open innovation represents.

An interesting offshoot of these values is the expectations placed on the executive team. John Conoley, our CEO, relates: “By choosing to live our corporate life openly and by adopting a set of clear values that support it, the executive team is held to a set of behaviors much more rigidly than I have ever seen before. In fact, the values are frequently consulted or cited in decision-making. The executive team is not perfect and mistakes will be made, but the ‘openness’ holds us to account in a whole different way. To not uphold the values would undermine the whole transformation project.” So it’s an interesting dichotomy that you have to create rigor and structure to enable the company to open up.

  • Provide Tools – Encourage and find ways for employees to dialogue with the external environment. For example, rather than block social media as is the practice of many companies, utilize it as a tool for employees to reach out beyond the corporate boundaries. This is critical to get the feedback, dialogue and relationships established to pursue open innovation.
  • Bring People with You – Provide opportunities for people to get on board. As with any fundamental shift, it will take time for people to fully digest the change that open innovation represents and its implications on the business and their specific role. To do this successfully, you need more than an email or single presentation. Rather, it typically requires a variety of communication tools (emails, presentations, signage) and interaction to make sure that people really do “get it.” It’s easy to mistake a lack of understanding, and the resulting lack of activity as a lack of support. It can be amazing how the activity level and perceived support increases once people truly do “get it.” But…
  • Push People as you Bring Them – Best intentions aside, people often need a little push to drive them from understanding open innovation to embracing it and modifying their activities to support it. Set up workshops that focus on a) “what you are going to do” followed by b) “what have you done to support”? And hold people accountable to their commitments.

You can find more information on Psion’s open innovation efforts on their Ingenuity Working site.

Todd Boone also contributed to the recent book, A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing: Advice from Leading Experts in which you can read further on his thoughts on open innovation.

A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing

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Stefan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation

Stefan Lindegaard




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