Recently I went to the Financial Times’ FTInnovate conference in London. The conference theme was “Big vs small: which one is better?” The conference chair freely admitted that the intention was to provoke debate, not to have a fundamentalist binary position with only one right answer. And there was a lot of good discussion and debate.
“It’s only words, and words are all I have…….” , is a line from the Bee Gees song “Words” from the 1960s that has been covered many times since. Full disclosure here – I don’t have this song in my collection, only in the recesses of my consciousness.
Open Innovation is now widely recognized as a way to enhance options for innovation by accessing external assets. However it can mean many things to many people; from running a crowdsourced idea scheme like Lego Ideas or MyStarbucksIdea, through to large co-branded initiatives like Senseo.
In the middle of this spectrum lie Open Innovation joint development projects. Put simply, these are projects where two or more companies work together to launch a product or service, usually exploited in the market place by one of the partners. But these can take many forms.
In a recent conversation, I remarked that I used to be a scientist. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that was wrong. A more accurate description was that I used to practice as a scientist, first with basic science, then the discovery and development of science-based products. But I am still a scientist, in other words I take a scientific approach to many aspects of my work; I think like a scientist.
One of my favourite definitions of innovation comes from Andrew Hargadon – it’s about making the possible desirable and the desirable possible. It neatly encapsulates supply and demand, implying that it’s something the customer wants and the innovator can deliver. It’s where problem and solution meet.
’m sure many of you will have read or heard the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, “if I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”. This is usually quoted in the context of radical or breakthrough innovation, justifying an approach that doesn’t rely on customer feedback.
It is generally accepted that innovation involves risk. In the more enlightened organizations it is also clear that failure should be accepted as a consequence of playing the innovation game. It’s a bit like sport. You can’t win all the time, but it doesn’t mean that you change the whole team if you lose one game. Equally, embracing failure is going too far.
Open Innovation (OI) is a well-established way to increase options for innovation. It is quite prominent in areas such as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (CPG), but much less so in manufacturing industries. That’s why I took the opportunity recently to find out more from Pete Longdon, who runs the OI programme at Tata Steel.
Tell me more about Tata Steel
Very few management systems or initiatives start with a blank sheet of paper. Every sizeable company already has ways of managing supply, quality, finance etc – and innovation. When the realisation comes that innovation needs to be strengthened, the temptation is often to import a system that will solve all your problems.
Disruptive innovation is the best type, isn’t it? New, exciting and the Rolls Royce of the innovation showroom? The one to aim for? Well, not quite….