Counter-Intuitive Innovation

“The only thing harder than starting something new, is stopping something old.” Dr. Russell Ackoff

There is a small but persistent minority of people I talk to about open innovation that quickly dismisses it as obvious, usually very politely, and claim it’s just what organisations have been doing for years. However the more I think about it the more I firmly believe that open innovation is highly counter-intuitive which is why it remains somewhat marginal.  To illustrate the point here are  some traits of open innovation  which often pass people by so I feel compelled to capture them in this post.

1.  Start At The End.

Without a clear vision for the sort of relationships you’re aiming for, you can forget about asking potential collaborators for their skills, ideas or resources.  You need to show that you are serious about collaboration and that means being clear about the time, money and appetite you have to see a potential partnership though to the end. We would always recommend starting at the end, with a win-win business model.

2.  Buy From Your Customers

How many of your customers are inventors too?  Organisations tend to think of customers as primarily recipients of products and services however they are often amazingly knowledgeable about your brand and sometimes it makes clear business sense to buy from them as well as sell to them. This two-way flow of value is too often overlooked.

3.  Show Not Tell

Many large organisations are trying to become open innovators by first trying to change their culture. Whilst this is rational, it rarely seems to work.  Companies will often change their ways of doing things more happily and spontaneously if they see first-hand evidence of colleagues adopting a new approach and it working.  Success sells.

4.  You Will Never Spot a Winner.

Ok you might sometimes, but lateral leaps only become obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Some of the best collaborations we’ve been involved with now seem perfectly natural but I cannot stress enough the challenge it was in getting there.  Great new ideas don’t actually have to make complete sense at the start.  If there’s something there that’s conceptually exciting there are plenty of rational process you can apply later.  Killing a good idea and new relationship off too early is a dangerously easy trap to fall into – who will ever know it would have made millions?

5.  It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You

There is a lot of discussion about networked effects and  it’s valuable to have a large, diverse and engaged network. However the real key is for people to approach you first with an opportunity before they go to your competitor. Their incentive will be financial but much more important that that is the ease with which they can find you, understand what it is you want and understand that you really would value doing business with them.

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