Surmounting Barriers to Open Innovation

I chaired an open innovation session at the British Library this week and we heard a lively exchange of views and some informative presentations from Orange, Quantum Innovation, P&G and Unilever. Nice to see the latter two competitors sharing the stage.

We conducted a mini-crowd sourcing exercise to find the most common barriers and create some new solutions. Here are the findings for the top three most interesting questions.

How do you fight the corporate innovation antibodies?

1. Through charismatic leadership – i.e: Airmiles selling effectively to BA right at the outset, or Esure both of which benefited from a visionary leader.

2. Through having a compelling business proposition – particularly if it is related to a need and therefore has ‘commercial legs’ – i.e: Airmiles was a response to the fact that most airlines had spare capacity and wanted to fill the planes without losing on revenues through discounting. Part of such a proposition is maintaining a consumer focus – not just win- win, but win-win-win (with the last win being the win of the consumer).

3. Though ‘vaccinations’ – use the people in the boundaries between the big and small organisation to build a culture that enables collaboration. Maybe each can spend time in each other teams, for example. This will promote a culture where people are empowered to say ‘yes’.

How do we create an Empathy Engine that encourages trust and reduces fear?

1. By enabling shared knowledge – small companies often do not understand how large ones operate and where in their operational teams innovation sits. Encourage events or programmes where large and small companies can understand more about each other’s structures and constraints.

2. By creating a marketplace where people can collaborate safely – i.e: a place where the ideas can be peer-approved. This means effective tools like collaborative platforms and design challenges where large organisations invite partners to find a solution and offer some funding or a concrete business model.

3. Through intermediaries – an honest broker in the middle that understand the big boys and is also trusted by the small companies.

4. By investing in the future through younger communities of schools and undergraduate students in a culture of collaboration.

How can we make sure that there is a win/win right from the outset?

1. By carrying out ‘due diligence’ – this is essential if risks and rewards are going to be shared. Big companies or intermediaries can mentor the smaller ones through this process, as SMEs often lack full legal teams that can advise them.

2. By finding the right point of contact in the big organisation – the person who really is the champion of collaboration and open innovation.

3. By not exclusively relying on competitions, but rather collaborative programmes that are well structured and have clear outcomes for all involved.

4. By agreeing some sort of standardisation to how you bring an idea to market and creating communities of interest from which ideas have a better chance of being taken up..

We’re increasingly thinking the key to a successful business collaboration is to avoid arm-wrestling over ownership, but focus on how you’re both going to profit.

Let us know if you think there are angles that the British Library crowd missed. As ever it will be a pleasure to hear from you.

by David Simoes-Brown


  1. Three really great questions, they ‘exercise’ the brain to resolve for all collaborative, team innovation but so relevant for any open innovation approach. I liked the vaccination one or ‘host’ to draw the ‘attacking’ cells. Could really get carried away to extend this analogy

    Perhaps for trust and win/wins the quick tool called “Plus 3, Minus 3” might be a useful first step to help you consider the pluses and minuses of each other early enough to achieve win/wins and recognize tougher areas. what gives value?, what we might lose.

  2. Thanks Paul, yes the antibodies is a neat concept – it was voiced by Orange at the meeting but got a lot of nod-along! Could you share a link for +3-3 exercise please? Sounds great.

  3. Great initiative and list, Roland. Another observation is that many companies expect the same precision in an “off the rack” external innovation input as from a “custom tailored” one developed internally. In some instances, taking up the sleeves may be adequate and will satisfy the need. Yet, I feel that many companies don’t wish to accept this, when it poses no meaningful business risk to do so. Instead, it may be about personal risk aversion. Unless companies are willing to accept the often inherent trade offs associated with external inputs, success is going to be limited (and many prospective partners will be disillusioned).

  4. Thanks michael. Fair point -many of our clients are looking for plug and play solutions to their problems. This may not always be appropriate.

  5. Posted on behalf of Adrian Furner:

    How about these a few quick starters.

    How do you fight the corporate antibodies? – Demonstrate the ‘art of the possible’ and develop clear messaging and measures to articulate the value add.

    How do we create an Empathy Engine that encourages trust and reduces fear? – making ‘customer experience’ the core of innovation whether it is product innovation, business model innovation, etc.. By doing this and always trying to bring people back to this you stand a chance of understanding the customer perspective.

    How can we make sure that there is a win/win right from the outset? – start off with the aim of creating ‘appropriate relationships’ not all partners will be right for all opportunities and acknowledging this from the start is key. There is often an assumption that if you have a partner on one opportunity then they will be suitable for another opportunity and that relationships are simple.

  6. Thanks Adrian. a thoughtful response.
    The art of the possible is a great idea, and puts in a more visionary way the idea about having a compelling business proposition.
    Yes having the customer firmly in mind is a great leveller. Not unrelated is this blog post.
    On partnerships the tendency is to go with whom you know of course. This does often solve a lot of trust issues but you’re right it shouldn’t be an automatic assumption.

  7. Posted on behalf of Adrian Furner:
    It’s a really interesting space as there is a natural desire for established organisations to keep their existing “products” in the cash cow box of the BCG matrix usually through “sustaining innovations” whereas new entrants are trying to move the box using “growth innovations”. There is a natural tension here and those companies that survive and thrive tend to be able to use both in an agile and adaptive manner.

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