Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Innovation: Transparency vs. Fear

Business Leaders get it. Innovators get it. So why are traditional R&D Product Development people the last to understand that transparency is key to innovation and market leadership?

Organizational fear is what I heard from frustrated innovation managers at Innovation conferences including the Open Innovation Summit held in Chicago, and CoDev in Scottsdale earlier this year.

Here's the problem as I understood it:

"We want to be more innovative, but our managers are concerned that if we begin to market into new spaces, our existing (traditional) customers will be turned off."

"If we open innovation to others, department leads fear they will lose control
of our intellectual property. "

"Managers believe their experts have the knowledge to create new products. They feel like third party contributors sharing a bunch of dumb ideas is nothing but a distraction."

So what's a business leader to do to encourage Open Innovation in a traditional R&D organization?

1. Talk about it.
If it's important to you, the business leader, it will become important to your organization too.

Innovation isn't new. Thought leaders have always dialoged with peers as a way to share knowledge and brainstorm new ideas. The concept of Open Innovation accelerates the pace as cross-functional and non-traditional experts share new ways of sharing problems and solutions. If you're the leader of a business unit responsible for growth, you've got to become the Open Innovation Evangelist within your organization. Talk about why it's important. And keep talking. Here's a cool example of a video that leaders at WD-40 use to foster innovation across their organization.

2. Systematize it.
Whether you have an old-fashioned wooden "suggestion box" or provide simple online tools, you've got to have a process to capture, and more importantly, to manage and evaluate incoming ideas. 

Traditional R&D folk are used to a stage-gate process, so it's no surprise they'll want similar tools to manage Open Innovation. Good tools provide great benefits:
  • Department heads can cull through the volume of crowd-sourced ideas to weigh and prioritize where to spend the organizations' time/money. 
  • Idea contributors want to know their ideas are heard, and taken seriously. 
  • Innovators need to know who/where the other innovators are.  
  • And with the right tools, social-media style Idea Challenges can be posted to solve some of the organizations more pressing issues. 
After a search through dozens of competitive products, I chose Hype Innovation not only to gather ideas (it's Sharepoint compatible), but to manage and communicate all stages of the process from ideation to execution. Regardless of which tool you use, aligned processes and systems make your innovation efforts sustainable.

3. Connect the dots.
One of the best pieces of advice heard at the Chicago conference was to draw a process map of your business. 

Who are your suppliers? Your customers? How do they order? How do you manufacture? Go to market? Get customer feedback? Once all members within your organization, including your suppliers and customers, understand how they or their work connects to the bigger picture, they'll start to buy in. Why? Because it's human nature to want to be part of a community. So whether you're a paper supplier creating new products for medispas, or a software developer helping business manage their financials, ensuring that everyone within your frame of reference understands what you do, and how you do it is critical. With a full understanding, they'll be able to connect the dots to do more, better, different - creating value through innovation. 

However, the 1st and 2nd must be in place to fully benefit from the 3rd.

Transparency requires a new way to think about innovation and a different path forward as ideas come in and begin to show promise. As a business leader and innovator, your focus is on creating value. Once you share your Open Innovation vision, provide appropriate tools and help your people connect the dots, you'll be well on your way to growing business, one great new idea at a time.

Who do you know who might benefit from this article? Please share and comment.

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