Innovation works best when it incorporates a broad network of perspectives. Open innovation, where a company invites outside groups such as academic organizations and non-profits to offer ideas to address challenges, can be a superb way to get those perspectives. However, some challenges must be addressed as you develop your innovation strategy.
In order to find something, you have to know what you’re looking for. Before you launch a challenge or send an invitation, sit down with your team and create some realistic, clear guidelines to filter the ideas you receive internally and to allow those crafting a proposal to understand the challenge better. Some variables to consider might be your overall budget, the size and weight of a product, the “must-have” functions or features, or a time frame in which to execute on the idea.
These should be carefully kept to as much of a minimum as possible, at least externally. It’s not unusual to find challenges built around just one variable, for example, finding new and effective uses for waste plastic. But a small amount of guidance can be a powerful tool for innovators.
Open innovation can lead to an enormous number of new ideas from surprising places. But while many ideas is a good problem to have, it’s still one that needs to be addressed. Before launching any open innovation program, have an infrastructure in place for who on your team will filter out the ideas suited to your needs. This will ensure nobody is overwhelmed and offer good points of contact for those curious.
Also be sure those doing the sorting know they can ask for help, and have important stakeholders represented in this process. Especially if a challenge catches on, it’ll save time on all sides of the equation.
One of the downsides of open innovation is that sometimes a brilliant idea is so good that someone has not only already had it, but they’ve also patented it. Sometimes this is a blessing in disguise; what can seem like an expensive proposition is instead a product developed for another purpose that you can simply use to address your challenge. WD-40, for example, was originally designed to protect missile housings from rust. However, it turned out to have a host of uses around the home as lubricant and protectant, and it was turned into a consumer product.
In other cases, however, you may not find a product; not all patents hit the shelves, after all. Therefore, have a process in place to check ideas against what’s legally actionable and what’s already available. In some situations, it may even fit your guidelines to acquire the product or license the patent. Examining how it addresses your particular challenge might inspire an approach that’s a better fit for your specific industry.
Open innovation can be not only powerful but also educational. Done right, you’ll get great ideas, and through those ideas, develop a better understanding of the person who came up with them. To learn more about open innovation, request a demo.