Open Innovation (OI) offers companies greater opportunities for innovative products and services by increasing the access to inventions, technologies and products that other companies possess. In order for it to work effectively, it must be internalized in a way that gets a project moving fast. This is a key part of the process and certain people can play a key role.
The people I’ve met who work in OI within large companies are invariably personable, highly competent and experienced. I don’t think there is any issue with the OI professionals. However there do appear to be some challenges with integration of OI projects in organizations, whether that is gaining traction with the initial idea, building a project team that effectively incorporates the external partner or struggles further on in the project.
Those of us who have worked extensively in OI know the feeling when an external opportunity falls within the responsibility of somebody who has the ability to grasp the information quickly; realize there’s something in it; mobilize others; influence up, down and around them; and simply get things done. There’s a feeling of organizational energy within and around them, which is why such people could be called “Superconductors”.
They usually sit at a node in the organization, have lots of links and contacts with other people in the company and act as more than just a routing point. They are superconductors because information and potential is not only routed quickly but seems to be amplified as well. They are usually natural enthusiasts with a curiosity and drive to deliver. The superconductors are the nodes in the internal network. Signals gravitate towards them, and the ensuing messages are sent to the other people that matter.
Equally, a lot of readers will have experienced the sinking feeling when you have to take an external opportunity to somebody who will suck the energy out of it and slow it down. They may be nodes in an organization design, but only on paper, and they are more super-resisting than conducting. I guess you could call them insulators.
This is not to say that OI professionals always want a “yes”. An informed, knowledgeable and early “no” brings clarity and avoids a future waste of time for you and the external company. It’s much better than a qualified “yes”, which really means, “I don’t know (or perhaps care)”.
HR groups do their best to fill the organizational boxes with people who meet the brief of experience, values and competencies. Yet why is it that some people can ‘superconduct’ rather than resist? Companies need to look closely at the people in key positions in the innovation chain. Not only do they need the requisite academic and business qualifications, increasingly they need to communicate, influence and mobilize. Just as much depends on the character of the people as on their positional accountability. That doesn’t mean they can’t be helped. Companies can coach and train people to improve already good superconducting performance, and to help those whose lack of awareness may be hindering the transmission of innovation opportunities.
So, do you know your company’s superconductors? Do you help or hinder them? How can you help them to ‘superconduct’ your OI more effectively? Where are the blockers in the network? Answering these questions will help the OI team be more effective and deliver more for your business.
image credit: greenercap.com
Kevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.