How is Open Innovation Different from Co-Creation?

When innovating, do you stick to what you know or the wider world?

“Open innovation” and “co-creation” are words you hear a lot when building an innovation strategy, and they also seem to be words that most people poorly define. To some, they’re interchangeable. To others, they’re wildly different. The truth is that they can feel similar, but their differences are a matter of boundaries.

What Is Co-Creation?

Let’s start with co-creation. As the name implies, it’s innovation created by working together. Co-creation draws from your pool of employees, contractors, venture capital firms, customers, pretty much anybody who has some sort of stake in your business. Co-creation, by its nature, is more of an internal process. For example, if you’re drawing on co-creation, you’d ensure that there was an easily accessible internal platform so that everyone with access could share ideas, comment on them, and address challenges or opportunities those ideas present.

The boundary, though, is that it’s limited to the stakeholders, whether they’re the interns making coffee or the executive boardroom. This has its advantages in that you can draw from your own pool of talent who understand how the company works and has experience in your industry. But it’s a bit of a drawback at the same time since there’s only so much distance we have from our jobs. Have you ever tried to get somebody who isn’t directly affected by or involved in your industry excited about it? It’s possible! But it’s a lot easier if you already have that base of knowledge. This can be something of a sharp contrast to open innovation.

What Is Open Innovation?

As the name implies, open innovation is about letting everyone in, whether they’re a twenty-year employee or somebody who just wonders why your industry does things this way when this other way seems so much easier. The boundaries are much broader and it’s often a public process—think the difference between an internal pitch of a project to the board versus taking that project to Kickstarter.

It’s all about the team.

Open innovation has its downsides; if you open the door to anybody, inevitably you’ll get both well-meaning people who won’t help and people who just want to heckle your business model. But it has the valuable advantage of perspective; open innovation invites in people who don’t know the way it’s always been done, and that allows them to view challenges with fresh eyes. The longer we spend in an industry, the more we tend to focus on the details, and that means we can miss the bigger things.

Do I Have To Choose?

If it seems co-creation can be tucked fairly easily inside open innovation, that’d be fundamentally correct. The only effective difference between the two is the fence you draw around it, really. That said, there are good reasons for that fence sometimes; if you design nuclear missiles, you probably don’t want to put those plans out there on the internet. But you should create those boundaries with the understanding that there are advantages and disadvantages, and if one isn’t cutting it, you may want to try the other. When you’re ready to start building a better innovation platform, whether open to all or internal, get the Innovation Starter Kit.

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