This post describes a simple five stage process for building your open innovation network described in detail below. The five stages are:
1. Visualise your current core innovation network
Map out who are the top 7 most interesting, influential or authentic people or networks that you already know (or follow). Write their names in the above ‘core innovation network’ boxes together with three adjectives that describe them and/or their expertise. Try to go for maximum diversity of backgrounds and experience and a mixture of people you know very well to those you have perhaps never met but you could approach if you want. Let’s refer to this as your core innovation network. You can also use various tools such as Gephi and Touchgraph to visualise your current social media networks too which can be illuminating.
2. Make the most of your current network
When did you last connect with one of your core network? Invest in those relationships and try to both ask for advice or help and also give back something of value to them. Aim to approach them with a specific question that you think might be of interest to them. Why not set up a skype chat, a meeting, or a beer/coffee. Find out what they are working on or care about and look for ways in which you can be helpful or generous quickly. Before you do, ask yourself what do they care about? Who are they interested in? What do you have in common and who do they know that you might want to get in touch with?
3. Identify your new open innovation partners
Who do you want to contact or work with, and why? Are they individuals, small businesses, large businesses or other institutions? Write their names in the above ‘open innovation network’ boxes and capture a Give (an offer of some kind e.g. of time, money, data, skills, resources, contacts etc) and a Get (what you would like in return) for each. Try to be as specific as possible as to who you want to approach either by name or by specific roles and responsibilities that they might hold. Also try to be clear and comprehensible as possible as to why you want to contact them and what might be in it for them.
4. Search, share and scan
Work with your current network and ask for help or how you can help them. Share interesting challenges, questions, opportunities or problems for them to engage with. Consider how can you best search or tap into existing databases or existing networks? Brush off your small talk and attend interesting events and keep a few business cards in your back pocket just in case. In addition use search engines or advanced search features on networks such as LinkedIn to find your potential partners. In addition there are numerous existing services and databases to help you find experts or venture partners (e.g. 100%Open radar service, inno360, ninesigma, yet2, innocentive etc). Alternatively simply ask your network for help.
5. Engage and keep in touch
Express interest in the needs of your core and open innovation networks and seek to be helpful wherever possible. Think about the best communication tools, platforms and spaces to engage and maintain regular contact as effortlessly and as simply as possible. Whether it’s social media and/or the occasional postcard, keep the communication channel open with short updates. Try to be aware of how you are perceived and try to curate some interesting opinions or facts that you can share. And remember to be yourself. Be authentic and even opinionated and get ready to engage with all responses, good or bad. And if you are running an open innovation process then have a space or a platform ready that people can engage with you on easily.
This post is a summary of the prototype Network Builder tool, which is part of the 100%Open open innovation toolkit which will be released shortly. To find out more, please get in touch via email@example.com.