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Communicating for attracting open innovators

Last week I had an interesting discussion with a tier 1 supplier in the automotive industry about the right communication strategy in his project to set up a proprietary innovation network. The two extreme positions we identified were on the one hand ‘Don’t open up at all’ and on the other hand ‘Be completely open’. In our discussion we found the optimal solution to be in-between.

Firms that start shifting their operating innovation mode from closed to open frequently find it difficult to find the right platforms and the right balance between confidentiality and openness. A usual step in this direction is to be a little bit more outgoing and ask also unknown innovation partners “Can you just send me information on your expertise and we will find out if there are points where we could innovate”. This is good, but not good enough. The pressure of the daily innovation business will not allow for an in-depth study of all the material the firm will receive then.

Being completely open which would be the juxtaposition will surely not work. Definitely the firm’s competitors, industry analysts and the investor community would welcome this kind of openness – but no firm would provide such deep insight into its future business.

In our discussion we found the truth to be in the middle. Leading firms tell very openly about their search fields and also about what technical solutions they are looking for (without saying for which purpose these are needed). Take FMCG firms Procter & Gamble and Beiersdorf for instance. On their Open Innovation Web sites they explicitly state their search fields. Both firms also communicate their wants and needs an talks and seminars.

Such a more open communication approach not only tells the world what the firm is looking for – it also attracts external partners that might have the skills to solve the technical challenges on hand.