What innovation teams need to know and do
Introspection, extrospection, technical ability and interaction skills are critical for implementing effective open innovation strategies in organisations.
Whether it is a fresh idea, a new product or a revamped process, innovation can take many forms and is a key fuel for growth in companies. Sustaining innovation, however, is an uphill task, akin to keeping a plane in flight even as its wings and wheels are being upgraded—a company may find it difficult to ideate and carry out research and development (R&D) when it is busy with day-to-day operations.
Rather than depend solely on its own strengths and resources to innovate, organisations are beginning to realise the benefits of partnering with external collaborators for success, practising open innovation (OI). Henry Chesbrough, who coined the term OI in 2003, defined it briefly as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”
This strategy has since become something of a gold standard in organisations worldwide, but to make sure that OI becomes deeply embedded in a company’s culture and not remain just a buzzword, certain skills are required on the part of innovation teams within corporations. We feature here four skills identified by the University of Cambridge as being immensely useful for successfully implementing OI.
Start with self-reflection (Introspection)
Before taking any action, it helps if companies pause and take stock of their current situation internally. Leaders of innovation teams need to ask themselves “why is there a need for innovation?” and “what are my company’s existing innovation processes like?”
Far from being a waste of time, a period of introspection can reveal internal gaps and opportunities—indispensable for crafting balanced problem statements to guide innovation efforts. Executives can then prioritise which issues to be tackled first, and source for solutions that fit with their business goals.
Sometimes, these solutions may already be available in-house, hence by examining internal repositories and tools, innovation teams may leapfrog a lengthy development process for new technologies. Should a company eventually decide that external partners are needed to co-create a bespoke solution, innovation teams must then assess which model of collaboration is most feasible, be it in-licensing intellectual property (IP) or initiating a research project.
Be aware of your surroundings (Extrospection)
While being introspective is important, organisations also cannot afford to decouple their innovation efforts from broader trends in the industry. By paying attention to the actions of competitors, the changing demands of their customers, as well as emerging technologies in adjacent fields, corporations not only increase their chances of staying relevant, but could even uncover resources to plug gaps in their value chain.
For example, South Korean tech giant Samsung noted market demand for indoor positioning technology and wanted to incorporate such features with its Gear S3 smartwatch. Instead of building the technology to answer a relative niche on its own in the indoor tracking arena, Samsung was open to IPI’s recommendation of partnering Bluetooth-based tracking technology developed at Singapore-headquartered Internet of Things (IoT) firm VIATICK. Working together, both companies co-developed a tracking system running on the Samsung Gear S3 Galaxy Watch that can provide seamless updates on the whereabouts of personnel in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Know your stuff (Technical ability)
Companies can reach out to IPI for help when sourcing for new technology, but if they prefer to perform such functions on their own, their innovation teams ought to have the technical expertise to understand deeply the principles of how a piece of technology works. They must also be able to assess the performance and specifications of new technology in comparison with existing state-of-the-art.
With these skills, innovation team leaders will be able to draft precise scouting briefs and collate holistic scouting reports—crucial for evaluating which solution best fits the organisation’s needs. Thereafter, some legal background may be necessary to manage IP issues arising from technology in-licensing or even collaborative R&D projects. The financial aspects of IP and technology valuation also cannot be ignored, therefore a team member with financial know-how can be a boon to an innovation team.
Keep discussion channels open (Interaction)
Since OI often involves multiple stakeholders coming together to work on a solution to an agreed-upon problem statement, communication is critical if an OI project is to take off. Innovation teams thus ought to be able to convey ideas clearly and succinctly to other departments within an organisation, bringing disparate parties into the conversation early on.
Often, proposals and business plans need to be drafted and revised in the course of pursuing an OI strategy, so writers that can mesh storytelling, market insights and technical detail into a comprehensive and convincing document are also valuable in innovation teams.
Meanwhile, in the event of issues of contention or disputes among stakeholders, a skilled negotiator can be an asset for innovation teams by thinking of ways to defuse tensions and work towards a win-win outcome. In the worst case, an amicable resolution or termination of collaboration may be achieved.
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