22 Jan 2019

Seeding Innovation on Home Ground


An openness to innovation starts from within
Here are four tips to build a culture of open innovation within your organisation.

In a climate of constant disruption, the greatest threat to an organisation’s survival can sometimes come from within, taking the form of resistance to open innovation. As technology advances, companies that are receptive to new ideas, equipment or methodologies—regardless of their source or origin—are more likely to see gains in productivity and adapt better to changing market conditions.

However, creating a culture of open innovation within an organisation can be challenging, especially when internal stakeholders are mired in ensuring bread and butter operations run smoothly. Here, we highlight some tips to help corporations focus their open innovation efforts.


1. Address outdated beliefs

Often, a pivot towards innovation requires a change in mindset, as a company’s internal stakeholders may be holding on to outdated beliefs that hinder future growth. For example, they may still prefer to hire technical expertise and carry out research and development (R&D) in-house, believing that this would protect any intellectual property and competitive edge derived from R&D. However, there are now numerous instances where companies have benefitted from an invention or idea without having originated it.

South Korean tech giant Samsung, for one, recognised the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wanted to position itself as a frontrunner in the consumer IoT market. Rather than recruit a comprehensive in-house team of IoT engineers and conducting R&D from scratch, Samsung chose to partner with IoT start-up SmartThings and has since launched a range of IoT-enabled smart home products. Positive case studies such as Samsung’s may therefore be needed to convince internal stakeholders of the advantages of embracing open innovation.


2. Compile problem statements

Introspection is a critical step towards fostering a culture of open innovation in companies. After all, without knowing what the problems and limitations are, it can be difficult for management to decide which direction to take in terms of process reengineering and technology adoption. Once the problem statements have been catalogued and clearly defined, leaders in organisations can then prioritise the issues that need to be tackled urgently.

Importantly, by assessing whether a technological fix can be found or developed, they will be able to create an innovation wish list, using it as a guide for sourcing out solutions that may already be available on the market. Should there be no suitable commercial option available, companies may even choose to share their problem statements with academia and work with researchers in institutes of higher learning to co-create bespoke technologies.


3. Broadcast your intent to co-create

A commitment to open innovation is pointless if a company does not advertise its technology needs to the wider industry and research community. Fortunately, in this digital age, crowdsourcing for ideas and inventions can be achieved via multiple online channels. Several multinational companies such as Philips and Proctor & Gamble have established their own innovation portals where they clearly indicate the challenges they face in various aspects of their value chain. Similarly, IPI publishes a repository of TechOffers and TechNeeds to help business owners and inventors connect online.

Alternatively, companies can publicise their desire to engage with external partners by participating in or issuing an innovation challenge, with prizes awarded to the most promising prototypes or solutions offered up by contest participants. For instance, local telco Singtel and electronics design and manufacturing group Aztech are crowdsourcing ideas and inventions that align with their business goals in the IoT Innovation Challenge. The key point is to not be shy about announcing your company’s intention to co-create value with the community.


4. Have patience and tolerate failure

Business leaders need to keep in mind that innovation takes time and allocate their company’s resources accordingly. Depending on the industry, the incubation period for novel products or services can vary from months to years. For instance, in the biomedical sector, getting a medical device from the design stage to regulatory approval can take up to seven years, while drugs take even longer—an average of 12 years, according to a US study.

Furthermore, innovation comes with its own set of inherent risks, and not every external partnership or research collaboration will necessarily translate to increased productivity or profitability. Leaders in organisations must therefore be tolerant of the prospect of failure when embarking on open innovation projects, and teams tasked with innovating should not be penalised for their creativity and willingness to wade into unchartered waters.

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