Flipping the Script on Innovation
“If the Door is Shut, Open it. If the Door is Open, Shut it.”
Change of State Innovation
In looking for innovations it is sometimes helpful to consider whether your product or service is open or closed. If it is open what would happen if you enclosed it? If it is closed what would happen if you opened it? The opposite approach to the current method can yield powerful new ideas. Here are some examples.
- For years software products were completely closed systems. For companies like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft the door to the code in their products was firmly shut. Then Linus Torvalds opened the door by making all the code in the Linux operating system transparent and available to anyone who wanted to see it or tinker with it. Open source software became a major force for innovation.
- Similarly, mainframe, mini and home computers were sealed boxes until the IBM PC was launched with its open architecture. Anyone could see the specifications and create their own add-ins.
- Personal computers, ipads and laptops became complex and closed but the Raspberry Pi computer is inexpensive and open. Children and enthusiasts build it themselves by plugging together the components and then writing code for the machine they constructed.
- For centuries food was sold and stored in an open way. You might buy apples and keep them in a bowl or potatoes and keep them in a sack. But food is perishable. A major innovation in the 19th century was canned food. It was originally created for the French and then the British armies and enabled them to store, transport and use fruits, meats and vegetables long after they would otherwise have rotted.
- Tea was sold loose. A major improvement in convenience was the result of enclosing just enough tea for one cup in a teabag.
- The meal you get in a restaurant or a ready meal from a supermarket is a closed product in the sense that you do not see the ingredients being prepared or the meal being made. Hello Fresh opened this process by giving you the specific ingredients and instructions for one gourmet meal (ironically inside a box!).
- Restaurants used to have the kitchen door closed. Customers could not see what was happening there. Then some restaurants opened the door. They turned their kitchens into a selling feature by making them open and clearly visible to all comers.
The great innovation which transformed global trade was one that took an open process and enclosed it. For centuries dockers or longshoremen stowed separate cargoes into ships’ holds. Containers transformed this system. Goods were put into the container at the factory and then trucked and shipped much more easily.
Open innovation and crowdsourcing take closed doors and open them. Big companies used to try to solve their research problems in house and develop new products in secret. Now they throw out challenges on sites like Innocentive. They ask all comers to suggest ideas for specific challenges and they collaborate with many outside companies and inventors to bring new products to market. This necessitates a dramatic change in the corporate culture from secrecy to openness.
Take a look at your products, systems and services. Wherever something is hidden or closed what would happen if you made it transparent? Where things are open would there be a benefit by packing them into a box? Innovate by changing the state of your offerings.
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Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation, and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane