Overcoming One of the Biggest Barriers to Open Innovation

Ever wonder why a good idea like open innovation is so hard to implement?

Henry Chesbrough coined the phrase back in 2003, but since then companies have struggled to convert from a closed model for research and development to one that involves collaborative R&D to solve technical challenges.

Why are they having so much difficulty implementing a cost-effective and time-efficient business practice? There are several reasons, but I believe much of it comes down to the need for better communication with internal personnel.

If you’re going to overcome the “Not Invented Here” syndrome, you have to “sell” the idea to internal staff—be they the program or product managers who decide which technology advances to pursue or the inventors toiling away in the lab trying to solve a problem themselves.

My experience with technology infusion as part of NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) has shown that effective communication with internal personnel is a big help. I discussed this in my paper, “Understand-Address-Present: A ‘New Product Development’ Approach To Open Innovation,” which I presented at the 2008 International Astronautical Congress.

Government agencies, such as NASA, have a great deal of experience with open innovation. The Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs and other collaboration-fostering activities within NASA’s IPP have been implementing open innovation principles for years.

So what works there? Thinking of the internal program staff as customers and treating technology infusion as if you were launching a new product. At its most basic level, new product development (and, by extension, infusion) occurs in three phases:

  • Understand: Understand the customers (i.e., program/product managers) and what they need (i.e., their R&D goals)

  • Address: Identify technology solutions that address those needs. Those solutions might be ready for infusion, or you might need collaborative R&D to bring a solution to the point where it sufficiently addresses the customers’ needs.
  • Present: Present the solution to the customers so they can consider whether they want to “buy” it. In the same way that no one will buy a new product if the company does not advertise it well, program/product managers are unlikely to infuse a technology if its value is not clearly presented.

I will discuss each of these phases in detail—and provide tools for implementing them—in a series of three posts. Next week: The “Understand” Phase.

The Understand-Address Present Series
Intro: Overcoming One of the Biggest Barriers to Open Innovation
Preface: Build Strong Relationships with Your Internal “Customers”
U: Understand Your Customer
A-Part 1: Address the Need
A-Part 2: Be Successful in Addressing the Need: The Must-Do Steps
P: Present the Solution

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