Leading transformation can be challenging; here are four ways to guide your organisation’s journey towards open innovation.

In today’s dynamic business landscape, companies can no longer rely solely on ideas generated from internal talent with predetermined job roles to come up with novel, innovative solutions. Ever-evolving, technology-empowered industries require businesses of all shapes and sizes to approach growth via open innovation.

Implementing open innovation, however, is not without its challenges. It comes with a period of adjustment, in which the entire company must learn to embrace new ways of doing things—and the disruption that it necessarily brings. To reap the full benefits of open innovation, leadership needs to step up, take the helm and steer the transformation process.

If you are leading the change towards open innovation in your organisation, here are some strategies you can adopt for your company to take the leap effectively, without alienating any of your internal and external stakeholders in the process.

1. Begin from within

Creating a culture of open innovation begins by looking at your internal talent and finding inspiration from seemingly unlikely places. More often than not, employees end up thinking inside the box, because of their job descriptions or fields of expertise. However, sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to see problems in a new light, and where better to start than with your colleagues?

Getting input from everyone in the company is a great way to spark collaboration and promote  cooperation across departments. People with specific fields of expertise will certainly have different ways of solving a problem. Having your marketers, finance professionals, HR specialists, and salespeople pool their ideas together to handle a design problem will not just produce innovative results, it will also cultivate a collaborative work culture in your organisation in the long run.

Facebook has been known to organise hackathons not just for its developers, but for all of its employees. The main idea behind these hackathons is to break down the barriers of job designations and get everyone to work on projects that they don’t regularly have to deal with. This set-up encourages novel, outside-the-box thinking, promotes teamwork and trains employees to accept ideas and suggestions from experts in other fields and departments.

2.  Be upfront about your organisation’s needs

Knowing and being open about what an organisation lacks is by no means a display of weakness. In fact, it’s an excellent opportunity to bolster partnerships while filling in internal gaps.

One of the best case studies for this is Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop initiative. P&G provides comprehensive information to possible partner innovators via its website. By giving access to P&G’s specific pain points and immediate needs, potential collaborators have all the data they need to figure out if they would make a good partner for the company. Unsurprisingly, this initiative has resulted in numerous collaborative solutions and increased research and development productivity by almost 60%.

Another example is DSM, a well-known advocate of open innovation and collaboration. Drawing on over 100 years as a science-based company, the health, nutrition and materials multinational actively engages in open innovation on four fronts: joint ventures, technology incubators, academic collaborations and public private partnerships. For example, Veramaris, a joint venture between DSM and Evonik, is revolutionising the aquaculture industry with its use of algae to produce omega-3 oils instead of fish. Their zero waste technology now has the capacity to meet 15% of the world’s omega-3 demand for salmon aquaculture, reducing the need for wild-caught fish feed and ultimately keeping fish in the seas.

3.  Leverage existing relationships

As for existing relationships with both internal and external stakeholders, keep the lines of communication and ideas exchange open. Find ways to involve your partners, vendors or even customers in your company’s strategy formulation process; this will likely result in long-term results and unexpected successes.

One need only look at the “create and share” program of famed toymaker LEGO to understand how anyone can become part of the process. Anyone who browses the site can submit their own concepts and designs for LEGO sets they would want to see on the market. If these pitches are commercially viable and legally possible, they can become actual LEGO sets. A total of 37 sets have been announced, 30 of which have already been produced.

Meanwhile, the annual NASA Space Apps Challenge is an international hackathon that challenges coders, creatives and creators with an interest in space science to solve real-world problems, both on Earth and in space, using the institution’s free and open data. Through this approach, NASA is able to supply the resources necessary for potential innovation partners from all walks of life.

4. Inspire trust and communicate honesty

Finally, make the transition to open innovation easier for your team by demonstrating the leadership qualities that encourage and propagate it. Some of these key leadership characteristics include the capability to ‘read’ the situation, understand and make decisions based on behaviour-influencing social context, the ability to connect with others, and a clear communication style that inspires confidence.

Perhaps the most important among these is the leader’s ability to create the perception of honesty: with him/herself, with internal stakeholders and with external partners. This is what will get the company and its partners through the rough patches and inevitable mistakes that will line the path towards successful collaborations. 

By taking the lead in developing a culture of open innovation, you are exposing your company to entirely new avenues of transformation and progress, while ensuring the growth and longevity of your organisation. If you feel that you are ready to reap the benefits of open innovation, reach out to IPI today to kickstart your journey.