As each year goes by it gets tougher to buy Christmas presents, as you have to search harder for something original and at the same time desired. There is a strong parallel with Open Innovation (OI). You need to look harder and in new places to find new things. That’s where the concept of Directed Serendipity comes in. It simply means that to get lucky you need to be looking in the right places.
Simplistically, “outside in” OI can take two forms, either people approach you or you approach them. When you’re looking, usually you will have a pretty good idea of what you want, but you should also have the flexibility and open-mindedness to pick up on anything else good that you find. Don’t stick rigidly to your search agenda; be prepared to consider the unexpected.
Companies who are good at OI aren’t just lucky with what they find. Anglers don’t just cast their lines in any piece of water. Experience and knowledge has shown them where the fish are most likely to be. There is still no guarantee that they will catch something, but they will probably succeed more in the “fishy” waters.
Directed Serendipity is another way of saying that the smart people who work the hardest get lucky, because they know where to look.
When you are doing the searching, it’s important to look beyond the “usual suspects”. While there’s nothing wrong with talking to people with whom you have serial innovation relationships, and nothing wrong with implementing the good innovation they can provide, in the medium to long term it ignores the richness and diversity that comes from new technologies being implemented in your products.
When you are appointing people to become technology scouts, the best people come from within the organization. They have a relatively broad technical experience, they know how the company works, and as the people charged with integrating OI projects, they have the best internal networks. They go to the right conferences and build the best external networks. They also have the best idea of where to look.
Hopefully you’ve bought the right festive presents and you may have had a similar experience to mine. I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to buy, and where, but I also found a couple of better options. So, now that the presents are wrapped and safely tucked under the tree, I can rest easy and relax, thanks to Directed Serendipity.
P.S. – Best wishes to all for a successful 2011, I hope your innovation hunting goes well.
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.