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Report on a cross-company expert workshop on „(Open) Innovation networks“

Two weeks ago, I had a cross-company expert workshop with a group of clients and contacts on (open) innovation networks. This is a hot topic in Open Innovation, at least in Germany – currently innovation-3 is doing a number of projects for clients that are benchmarking their own approaches in designing and managing innovation networks.

Lufthansa was the host of this event – with additional participats coming from some of the best German firms such as Merck, Robert Bosch, Beiersdorf, Bayer, Freudenberg, Evonik, Continental, German Institute for Aerospace, Deutsche Telekom and RWE.

The event was kicked off by a short presentation from myself on the “state of the innovation network nation”. From my projects and discussions I see 4 key drivers why firms are rushing to build up their innovation networks:

  • A dramatic increase in business tempo (think explosion and globalization of knowledge, more complex innovations, new scientific disciplines, shortening product life cycles, social networks / social commerce, etc.)
  • Work environments getting more complex (think globally dispersed teams, on-demand services, more interactions with unknown co-innovators)
  • Demographic shifts (e.g. 19% of US executives and managers will retire within the next 5 years – how could the firm secure their business expertise?)
  • New expectations regarding work (e.g. from a top-down, hierarchical leadership style to a collaborative one)

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According to a recent study by the Gartner group, in 2014 two thirds of the Fortune 500 will have their net of innovation networks in place to engage employees, customers, business partners and Web communities.

Looking at what is out there one finds that firms are building up external and/or internal innovation networks.

As for external innovation networks (i.e. extending the firm’s boundaries), one finds four generic types: Closed (proprietary) or open; Co-innovation in each of these two types can be done in a collaborative or a competitive way. Looking at the results from innovation-3’s benchmarking studies, there are half a dozen Key Success Factors to master in order to make them successful.

Looking at internal innovation networks (i.e. within the firm’s walls) one sees again four generic types: Expert finder networks, social networks, project / process oriented collaborative environments and information dissemination networks. Each of these four types has a different focus and a different understanding of “success” – ensuring the proper understanding of success is indeed one of 10 or so Key Success Factors.

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Judging by the topics selected by the participants, three of the most pressing issues in (open) innovation networks are:

  • Change Management – How to get people to change their mindset to a collaborative one and how to use innovation networks as a lever for organizational change?
  • “Leadership 2.0” – What is the shape of leadership in a world of networked, collaborative innovation?
  • Managing innovation networks – How to identify new innovation partners, how to selct the best ones, how to deal with Intellectual property issues?