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How to use Open Innovation for the long-term technology strategy

More and more firms are opening up their approach to innovation, Leading firms have a clear view on where they want to be open and where they deliberately choose a closed innovation model (I recently wrote a publication on the thought process which will be published within the next few days on InnovationManagement).

Working with the leading OI firms one finds that typically open approaches to innovation are within a 6 to 24 months time-slice, depending on whether the firm is looking for a plug-and-play solution, a concept that needs to be tested and integrated or an idea that needs to be fully worked out and implemented.

I recently had some interesting discussions in the Energy and Automotive sectors that centered on the question: How can we use open approaches to innovation to increase substance and quality of our long-term technology strategy, i.e. the 5 to 10 year’s perspective? We found an interesting process to answer this question.

The process design we chose builds on an interesting observation. No firm today is completely closed. Every firm has open approaches to innovation like e.g. involving suppliers into fine-tuning the technical details or contract research done by an university. The firm may not be a true Open Innovator since it is not pursueing the in-sourcing of external ideas with great rigor, but it still has open approaches to innovation. However, for many firms the base of external innovators remains rather constant over the years. One explanation for this is that the innovators tend to work with the same external innovators they have been working with in the last years – in the cosy, warm nest of existing relationships. And pretty often these externals have adapted to the firm’s peculiarities and bring in ideas that are (a) within their own area of competence and (b) presented in an easy-to-digest way for the firm. Consequently, the substance and quality of innovative impulses from these externals decreases over time.

This in turn implies that if a firm wants to take an unbiased 5-to-10-years look into the technological future it is very helpful to integrate not-yet-known experts into the process. Typically, the argument is heard “We know all of the experts world-wide” – but a professional search, including tools for semantic search in the Web and in databases (patents, publications, conference lectures, etc.) usually discovers new experts.

Within the process that my clients and I defined these new experts will complement existing ones and assembled into a Delphi process that aims deliberately not at consensus but at unearthing the difference in opinions and the arguments that have not been heard up so far. In a second process step, these globally distributed experts are convened into (virtual) Web conferences to further discuss and elaborate on the theses and the questions that the first process step yielded. To complete the process, it is them mandatory to arrange for a proper absorption of the generated insights by the firm’s innovators.