Open Innovation or Lip Service

Remember the days when organizations kept their corporate campuses locked down like fortresses? Key card access at every turn? Non-disclosure agreements as thick as phone books? Apparently many corporate organizations are trading those ways in for a more “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach called open innovation.

Simply put, open innovation is the idea of accepting external thoughts and ideas into the research and development process and allowing ideas to go where they may (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea). Traditionally guarded companies such as Philips are trading in their locked-down campuses for a more welcoming and idea-inspiring environment, simply because the wealth of information these days is too great to keep under lock and key. This not only involves changing how companies ideate, it changes their culture as well.

And then there’s today consumer, who is bombarded with an endless deluge of information and subsequently demanding. He isn’t happy receiving his $15 complimentary Starbucks giftcard for participating in a focus group; he wants to be part of the innovation process. He wants to be able to see what’s behind the curtains and how an organization functions. He thrives on hearing the lessons a company has learned and the missteps it may have taken. He’s dying to know the latest and greatest research and development initiatives that have taken a product from concept to market.

This type of external impact on corporate thinking and culture has people like Henry Chesbrough very happy. I liken him to the Godfather of open innovation. The University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business professor appears soft-spoken on camera, but is passionate about open innovation and the benefits it can bring to organizations that adopt this approach to thinking.

While there’s no question that corporations such as Philips, IBM, and even Intel that are “open” to this type of innovation (pardon the pun) and the benefits it can achieve, there is certainly a growing conversation about whether the phrase “open innovation” is the latest victim of public relations abuse (think: all of the companies that went “green” as soon as green was good). As more and more companies see the rewards of opening their walls to different kinds of thinking, it will be interesting to see which companies truly follow the intricate process of open innovation vs. those who use it strictly for lip service.

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