Time to Stop Watering Down Open Innovation

Open innovation needs to urgently be appreciated as an innovative and constantly evolving approach to organising people, business and society in its own right.

After recently attending a few events and meetings held by others in the know in the innovation and entrepreneurship world, I realised that open innovation is simply not getting the justice it deserves.

It is a far more powerful concept than running innovation challenges, conducting hackathons with up-and-coming developers or crowdsourcing to get interesting product ideas from your customers.

Open innovation is an overarching term for intra-, inter- and extra- organisational forms of innovation. It has many sub-segments, categories and nuances.

In its best versions, open innovation is both an organisational strategy and organisational culture that allows for knowledge, resources and ways to market to flow freely across organisational boundaries during product and process development processes.

It its ultimate versions, it is a formidable concept that can now include innovating across industries, regions and even countries, where co-developed outputs benefit shared ecosystems and even humanity at large.

Open innovation urgently needs to be seen and appreciated as an innovative and constantly evolving approach to organising people, business and society in its own right, or we risk it being applied in diluted versions of itself for years to come.

Here are five key things we need to be doing as communities of innovators.

Learning from the last decade of open innovation application

Open innovation was made famous by Henry Chesbrough in 2003. Crowdsourcing, in-bound and out-bound licensing, open innovation software and innovation challenges have been applied by in many organisations since then.

This means there are several working case studies to look back on with concrete examples of what worked or did not work from the early ideas of the concept.

This also means that the concept has had a lot of opportunity to evolve since then.

We need to understand what the definition of open innovation was back then, versus what it is now, instead of recycling old versions of the concept under the guise of ‘innovation’ or ‘innovation education’ more than ten years later.

Adding to the body of knowledge of open innovation   

We need to be documenting our more recent experiences with innovating across boundaries.

This applies especially during time of Covid, where numerous cross-organisational and cross-industry teams naturally formed to collaborate on innovative solutions to problems that were accelerated or instigated by the global pandemic.

We should not only be writing articles and papers in this regard but holding open forums where we share what we have learned about the process of open innovation itself from practical, real-world experiences.

Stopping the ‘sheep approach’ to innovation

Open innovation is an innovation, so the process itself should be able to continuously become something new and better in its own right.

This means we need to stop the ‘copy-and-paste’ approach that has currently exploded in the marketplace, where blind implementation of text-book style, step-by-step models do not necessarily match what is required by innovators for authentic innovation.

A ‘sheep approach’ to innovation has resulted in a whole lot of exciting ideation, but certainly not enough successful implementation or value creation for society.

We need to bear in mind that even famous innovation models can be adapted, combined or birth brand new models.

We can even cocreate our own innovation structures that are a better fit for any current organisational resources, innovation culture or capabilities.

In one instance, I found a customised blend between a design sprint and a co-creative structure worked best. In another organisation, a simple list of required outputs and some key, enabling tools and processes to produce these outputs was all that was needed to get hundreds of people innovating together naturally on a national scale.

Knowing the difference between open innovation and its counterparts

The words ‘open innovation’ are often used interchangeably with corporate innovation and cocreation, but there are key distinctions.

Corporate innovation has a relationship between a corporate and a start-up at its heart.

Open innovation involves structured ways to bring in outside knowledge, resources and ideas to the product development process and includes ways to go to market with selected external stakeholders.

Cocreation sees multiple parties co-developing product or process solutions to problems with value generated for all parties across the ecosystem, to the extent that the human experience is better for all involved, not just customers.

Design thinking and other similar processes focus on producing minimum viable prototypes and products for iterative testing and development.

These concepts can overlap and blend with one another.

The language we use to define and describe innovation will help us evolve innovation processes, as we will quickly be able to see and compare current versus emerging ways to innovate.


Measuring value creation from innovation implementation

It is one thing to say that we accept a certain failure rate in innovation processes and another thing to ignore the phase of successful implementation altogether.

Ideas abound when innovation is in play and so do lots of clever minimum viable products to happily test and play around with. This does not necessarily mean that the innovation efforts in our organisations are being implemented all the way through, let alone becoming impactful.

We need to be asking ourselves how much real value permeates into society from innovation efforts. How do we define what value we want to create? How do we measure the impact of innovation for all co-innovators, end-users and stakeholders involved?

While I am not one for overly complicating strategic goal setting processes as this affects agility, there is something to be said for having at least one clear, powerful measure of impact for any innovation process.


I believe we are on the verge of documenting a new set of innovation processes that will take the open innovation and cocreation concepts put in play more than a decade ago (and recently made popular by times of Covid) to a whole new level.

This innovation process will see organisational boundaries go beyond simply being more permeable, to organisations blending into one another, with the problems we are solving together becoming the shared focus, rather than the focus being on how to cling to the resulting intellectual property.

Click here to learn and apply boundary spanning approaches to innovation.

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren is the creator of The Collective Organisation and is an entrepreneur, educator and innovator, fully immersed in the world of boundary spanning innovation.

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