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Open Innovation

A cross-functional product innovation team is doing a planned “Yoga interruption” to help the creative inspiration flow in a special Innovation workshop. After all you can't be creative for 6 hours straight in a ten-hour workshop, I've found that something like the Yoga thing pays huge dividends. The team has been assembled to solve a Big Problem for a Major Brand. The Innovation process being followed dictates that all disciplines from the client and consultant organizations are represented. One of the client's manufacturing engineers from supply-chain, a guy who probably hasn't seen a gym since '65, is struggling to balance in what our instructor refers to as the “Warrior II Pose”. At that moment I look over and can read his mind. He's saying to himself, “What the *&*+% am I doing here?”

What he's doing is participating in a sea change for the field of Product and Service development that is putting people from all areas of business into “awkward” positions in order to foster innovation. For years the burden has been on designers to better understand the language of business. Now in a strange turn of events fueled by the notions of “design thinking” and “Open Innovation”, business is being forced to embrace the design world and open its mind to that decidedly amorphous and funky groove that is design. A world that thrives within practiced ambiguity and orchestrated chaos.

A friend and colleague, industrial designer Richard Seymour, provided a visual metaphor I have used quite often lately to describe the controlled chaos that is the Innovation process - the implosion of a building. Filmed at a distance, imagine an old building ready to be imploded&#hellip; 5, 4 3, 2, 1, and blast… the charges go off and the building comes down; a thunderous rolling cloud of dust rises up into the air; in it frenzied scraps and fragments of what was formerly a building whirl and whip around. Now freeze that image. The cloud is the perfect analogy for our supply-chain fellow's dilemma. What is going on here? Chaos, bits and pieces flying around; things never seen before; Yoga? The front end of Innovation is a lot like that cloud. Now here is the visual - run the video backward. The cloud is sucked back in and the pieces and parts come together into something tangible and important. The building is made again.

By definition, Open Innovation requires the borders that typically enclose companies R&D efforts to become porous. It requires different models to be employed: Different models for initiating the development of and harnessing enabling technologies. Models where things that are known outside the R&D group are as critical as things on the shelf inside the corporation.

Open innovation protocols require new models of interaction between companies, consultants and manufacturers: Royalty and participation models; integration models; partnering alliances and outsourcing deals that expose closely held technologies and licensing deals for new ones that may help expand opportunities. It involves internally initiated Innovation protocols and processes. It requires the efforts of internal and external “Scouts” to make the connections between the offerings and the end users. Those offerings can be internally generated by an enabling technology or externally by an in-depth study of consumer need.

No matter how it comes about, the key here is a philosophy of “pull” rather than “push”. That is to say, if you can figure out what a consumer really desires and a way to make it without compromise then customers will be drawn to your offerings. Think iPod or Dyson. Think Pom or the Nissan Extera. The old model is to develop a product or Brand Idea based on what marketing thinks customers need, arrange the branding and advertising to sell it, and then “push” the consumer toward the offering through traditional mass-market exposure and selling techniques. But the mass-market is now fractured to within an inch of its old life, and so are traditional selling techniques. Unilever can get more important touches by posting a video on YouTube than by spending 30 million dollars on a Super bowl ad. Handing a brief to design and engineering is old school. Brand management driven by the total product experience is the new way. And this is why we find chief innovation officers, brand managers, researchers, manufacturing engineers and suppliers in a room together with consultants holding the Downward Dog pose. For many it's a hard to understand and negotiate the cloud of debris, but there is no going back.

The old models give important control (and by default), place the power with Brand and marketing; usually what are known as “left brained people”. The left side of the brain deals with ambiguity by creating vehicles for measurement and forecasting, reaction to and the charting of. Think MBA. Open Innovation empowers those who are comfortable with ambiguity are considered to be right-brained, or “creative.” Because Open Innovation asks's what might be? Not how does this measure? We are witnessing an enormous shift of power to the right-brained people, who are sometimes understandably uncomfortable with the behaviors required and the new authority it offers. They now have the keys to the car after being a passenger for so long.

And a shift of this magnitude is never easy. At a recent conference I heard graphic designer Clemet Mok sum it up nicely, “many Marketers and Ad agencies still think and act like it's 1975”. Understandable… but not a strategy for growth in a decidedly different future of “customer experience driven Brand growth” and flexibility required by the practice of Open Innovation.

For the last few years Innovation has always followed a clear direction/focus each issue. This latest edition is more of a swirling cloud. My hope is that after reading this issue you'll maybe grab a few bits of debris and then run the film backward.