Interview – Paul Austin and Denise Fletcher – Xerox and ACS (a Xerox company)
I had the opportunity to interview Denise Fletcher, Vice President Innovation, Healthcare Payer & Insurance of ACS (A Xerox company) and Paul Austin, PhD, Principle Researcher for Xerox Innovation group last year, about open innovation participation, strategies, and barriers to innovation success.
Here is the text from the interview:
1. Do you feel that companies need an innovation strategy? If so, where does open innovation fit in?
Innovation is one of the only remaining differentiators – virtually everything else in the supply chain can be outsourced – so innovation is vital to growth. Open innovation fits in as a thoughtful part of the overall strategy; no one has all the answers or perfect understanding of customers, so open innovation must contribute solutions to customer needs while not eliminating all differentiation. For example, large software systems often need to incorporate competitive features; open innovation can help sustain the baseline customer expectations while letting the development team focus on the next generation of the features that make you special and distinct. In some cases you can permit innovation in a box, like app development for the iPhone, but innovators will be frustrated by the boundaries.
2. Why is it important for organizations to consider participating in open innovation or why did your organization begin its open innovation effort?
We certainly have no monopoly on good ideas – often others can make our ideas better, and we can do the same for them. Often, others also have a different perspective on our customers’ needs, or understand future customers’ needs that we haven’t even considered yet – they can help us avoid product myopia. Invention is not innovation – innovation also requires understanding needs and meeting them. This is why our ethnographers are so vital to our research. We’ve admired alphaWorks since its inception.
3. What should an organization be aware of if they decide to pursue open innovation?
This is a big culture shift if you are used to a closed system. You’ll have to do some serious and honest introspection to figure out what your real, differentiating value add is. Then you can start to open the rest. Open innovation will impact your legal, marketing, sales, engineering, manufacturing, and management, all in a big way.
4. Which companies do you look to as leaders in open innovation?
Certainly IBM. Sun, especially prior to Oracle. Google, particularly chrome and android. Practice Fusion. Facebook. Tesco. Apple to a bounded degree. (I’m an engineer at heart, so I apologize to those with great innovations in business that I’m ignorant of.)
5. What is the most important culture change for organizations to make in order to support innovation?
The World is Flat. Anyone can have a great idea – the challenge is in pursuing enough of them fast enough to make a difference. And the best idea does not always win. Don’t forget that there are many thousand dormant open source projects lying around in cyberspace. Agility is good, and hard, and tiring, and energizing.
6. What are some of the biggest barriers to innovation that you’ve seen in organizations?
This is easy – my old nemesis NIH (not invented here). Systems that are already bloated with features. Legal – particularly when we want indemnity around products in our supply chains. Visibility and accountability, all the way through to our customers.
7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?
Ethnography! To understand your customers’ needs, both explicit and subtly observed, that you can form solutions that really work for them. The second is an intuitive skill to be able to take discreet ideas as they are being formed and visualize how they can connect across industries and businesses. You must be able to see the possibilities and be willing to test those hypothesis.
8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation work force of tomorrow, what would it be?
Tough question! We need science, math, engineering, and programming skills, of course. But we also need respect for others ideas, people observational skills, and ability to find gratification in making things better for others. This speaks to a broad education; I didn’t appreciate the breath of requirements I experienced in college until I worked with others that were too focused. The senior projects in my high schools have had a positive effect; students must select a problem, a mentor, work on an activity to help solve it, and report on the results. I’m sure it’s a lot of work to organize, but it pulls together skills and learning for the students in an important way.
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.