Beware the Open Innovation Backlash

Have you ever been asked for directions by a stranger, only to find the person head off in completely opposite direction once you’ve finished talking? I’m pleased to say this has only happened to me once or maybe twice and I can only conclude that a) I didn’t communicate the directions clearly enough or b) they changed their mind/decided to go somewhere else/didn’t believe me etc. If it’s the former then it’s clearly my fault but if it’s the latter, then why ask me in the first place, if you aren’t going to act on the answer you are given?

And yet many big brands and organisations behave in exactly the same way. They talk a good game on collaboration and open innovation and pretend to be interested in what their consumers or suppliers have to say, but their behaviour shows that they aren’t really listening and they head off in the opposite direction.

However, whilst this might be mildly annoying behaviour of a stranger in the street, it is dangerously shortsighted by larger organisations who’s reputation is increasingly their key currency.

As Stefan Lindegaard says in his recent book, The Open Innovation Revolution, you only get 1.5 changes to get it right. In other words, people will participate in your open innovation initiative the first time because its new and different, but if you mess that up you have to work twice as hard the second time. And if you mess that up there won’t be a third time.

Anyway, I have really started to notice a backlash against open innovation and crowdsourcing in exactly those early adopter communities where many of these behaviours first started, namely in tech development communities and also in product and service design communities. And for good reason too, namely people can’t work for free.

Of course innovators are driven by many different things – mastery, autonomy and purpose – as Dan Pink summarises it in his latest (excellent) book called Drive, however open innovation can’t be about getting something for nothing, and I think a lot of innovators/consumers are catching on to this fast. In nearly all of our projects we work hard to recompense people for their contributions – not simply for ‘just’ their ideas, as these are plentiful, but for the 99% of perspiration that is required to turn an idea into a product or a service.

So beware the backlash. I can see it happening already and it will only increase if the old organisational model of ‘we know best’ isn’t replaced by ‘who knows best?’ and the behaviour and the strategy aren’t aligned behind it.


  1. Hi Roland,
    Interesting. I am also aware of increasing debate and discussion on whether Open Innovation is of value.
    To this end, any scientist would do the following….
    1. Define the term.
    2. Model what happens in practice.
    3. Hypothesise on why we observe results that are different from those we would predict.

    I suspect that if these questions are addressed through the “supplier lens” and the “client lens” then we’ll see radically different takes on each of them… we end up with people who are tending for and against.

    Is anyone interested in debating these questions ? It can only help us to get a better dovetailing of expectations in the area of innovation collaboration.
    All the best, Roy

  2. Great comment Roy and absolutely true. I’m definitely interested in debating this very question. Despite basing our company name on the term ‘open innovation’ I am fairly sure that the strands that underpin it will continue though almost certainly by another name.

    Many of these phrases/words such as ‘web2.0’ are at one level meaningless hype, but at another level manages to capture a fundamental shift, which I think applies to open innovation too.

    Where do you suggest we take it from here?


  3. Roland: Great post. You are raising a very interesting topic. Roy’s comment about “supplier lens” versus “client lens” is spot-on.

    As in a public lottery (game of chance), public open innovation has allure to the would-be technology supplier (often a relative lay person) of an opportunity to take advantage of the larger company’s financial and marketing muscle and hit a huge payday. I refer to many of these folks as LSD’s (Looking for Sugar Daddy). Regrettably, their expectations are way out of line with the rigorous standards and low risk tolerance that corporations rightfully set.

    On the other hand, some corporate technology seekers view public open innovation as a numbers game (i.e. despite low “yield”, getting something for nothing with relatively low incremental effort), with relatively little empathy for the individual technology provider.

    It is gratifying that at least some of the big players are now recognizing that there needs to be a recalibration of provider expectations and for real shared value in order for public OI to be sustainable.

  4. Part of the problem is that words mean different things to different people, and some great ideas lose their lustre if people sense their being corrupted.

    The first time someone offers an open collaborative event, it sounds new and exciting. But when the umpteenth company tries it, people become more sceptical.

    Especially as some of these invitations feel more like a partner saying to their spouse “let’s collaborate for you to do the washing up”

    I know I get collaboration fatigue if I don’t feel there’s some kind of meeting on equal terms…

  5. Michael – i think you’ve nicely descibed the different extremes and I like the LSD concept too – never heard that before. I guess open innovation, if it’s not just going to be a fad, needs to be about building true long term relationships and value which is almost certainly at the expense of short term gain, which runs counter to most quarterly targets etc.

    Great contribution Johnnie and must confess to having the occassional ‘washing up’ conversation along those lines. And collaboration fatigue – yes there is definitely a fair amount of that and I fundamentally don’t think collaboration can happen unless on equal terms.

  6. I agree with Roland regards the backlash –

    Open Innovation is exciting but without ‘open protection’ that affords an economic remuneration for Professional Originators – OI will be held back from reaching its full potential.
    A huge amount of creative contributions to innovation are not subject to patents. And all the while Corporate firms (for good reasons)will not view concepts that do not have a patent, they lock themselves out of a significant part of the innovation and co-creation process.
    The buzz right now is focused on – the first ever, ‘open protection’ system underpinned by ethical trading policies between Professional Originators and route to market partners and investors.

    Well done Roland for flagging the backlash issue and bringing it into open discussion

  7. Focusing on the issue of aligning intentions and building long term relationships, this is an area where our clients see a large amount of value from the IXC Intermediary model. We spend a lot of time looking through both supplier and provider “lenses”; building trust and ensuring alignment between the two parties before a connection is validated and completed. That said we feel some resonance with Jonnys comments regarding how people attach different meanings to the same words in this sector.

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