Which must come first?
by Stephanie Baron
Day one of the EPIC conference convinced us that open innovation, while not being a one size fits all, can be tried and will deliver results in every industry.
Day two of the conference embarked us on exploring new business models in those open partnerships systems. We started with a chicken or egg conundrum: If we develop the technology should we also create the need for it? Or is it necessary to first find an unfulfilled need and develop a solution. In short, if we build it, will they come?
Keynote speaker, Alexander Blass, of Alexander Blass Int’l, insisted that we must start with a need. Mark Johnson, another keynote speaker for the day, also drove home the point that you have to start with customer value in mind. “That may start by looking at unsatisfying jobs that need to be done…”
However, several of the companies present at this conference are indeed innovating first and then looking for commercialization opportunities. Pushing it to consumers instead of being pulled by their needs. To achieve this you do need to start innovating at a much faster rhythm than inside teams can achieve. Hence the need to find more partners.
Thursday at the EPIC conference has therefore been a collective effort from several companies to take anyone willing out for a spin. Starting with Air Products & Chemicals, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer and even NASA, they are all looking for partners, no matter what form the partnership will take: spin-out, out licensing, seed funding, you name it. None of these guys are monogamous though, consider yourself warned.
Douglas Comstock at NASA is looking for win-win-win in a broad spectrum of domains, from flying cargo to the international space station to finding vaccine for salmonella and even green transportation. Sounds risky to you? It actually makes sense: their ecosystem is space! Moreover, as their sole customer, the U.S. government, is slowly but surely disengaging itself, new revenue streams must be created quickly. If you wonder how NASA impacts your daily life, and probably how you could partner with them to innovate, check out their website.
Recognition or motivation?
Another big stumbling block all entrepreneurs face is how to get your employees on board with innovation. Between motivation and reward, how to you get them to try new things, suggest ideas and experiment? The chicken and egg applies here too. Do you foster an entrepreneurial mindset by rewarding initiatives or do you take for granted that all employees must innovate?
“Innovation is not an attitude we should reward differentially, it’s just part of the job” said Greg Norman of General Mills. His colleague Trisha Pergande, insisted that, at General Mills, the reward system is part of a broader ecosystem, it must be aligned to metrics which are themselves pulled straight from your strategy.
Doron Grinstein, CEO of Bitkoo, answers differently when asked about employees reward: “They are compensated above industry standards, we give generous bonuses, and a percentage of equity”. Interestingly enough it does seem that innovative people are, against all previous research on the subject, sensitive to monetary reward rather than public recognition. Then again, how many will prefer a plaque to cash?
If open innovation is definitely the way to go, there is no consensus on the actual logistics behind it. The last day of the conference will hopefully bring us more concrete answers that will resonate for all industries.
Stephanie Baron is a business PhD in the making, and a strategy mercenary with a generalist approach. After traveling the world, she has settled down in Montreal, where she learns, teaches, consults, writes, speaks and edits a new eMagazine.