Why Now Is the Time for “Open Innovation”

Amidst the gloom and doom of the early months of the Covid-19 crisis, something surprisingly uplifting started to happen: Companies began to come together to work openly at an unprecedented level, putting the ability to create value before the opportunity to make a buck. The German multinational Siemens, for instance, opened up its Additive Manufacturing Network to anyone who needs help in medical device design. Heavy truck maker Scania and the Karolinska University Hospital have partnered, too: Scania is not only converting trailers into mobile testing stations, but also directed some 20 highly skilled purchasing and logistics experts to locate, acquire, and deliver personal protective equipment to health care workers. Similarly, Ford is working together with the United Auto Workers, GE Healthcare, and 3M to build ventilators in Michigan using F-150 seat fans, portable battery packs, and 3D printed parts.

Collaboration can obviously save human lives, but it can also produce huge benefits for companies — even though it’s often overlooked in normal circumstances. For more than a decade, we’ve studied open innovation and have taught thousands of executives and students how to innovate in a more distributed, decentralized and participatory way. The classroom response is usually, “My company needs more of this!” But despite the enthusiasm, companies rarely follow through. We have also witnessed how companies have used hackathons and other forms of open innovation to generate heaps of creative ideas that never reach the point of implementation, leading to frustration among employees and partners. At many companies this kind of distributed, decentralized, and participatory way of innovating remains an ambition that hasn’t yet come true.

The recent burst of open innovation, however, reminds us of the…continue reading article.

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