The principles of Open Innovation are by now clear to most people working in innovation. In short, it recognizes that ideas can come from anywhere, as can partners in routes to market, supporting competencies and resource. Open Innovation is increasingly seen as a source of competitive advantage, so companies need to consider how they identify, evaluate and secure external partners.
The sensible and well-structured Want/Find/Get/Manage model is now widely used. Often though, it seems that the approach in the Find section is similar to that of Captain Renault in the famous film, Casablanca – “round up the usual suspects”. This approach will be fine in the short term and some partners will undoubtedly be strong long-term partners. But imagine if a company’s approach to sales was to only sell to existing customers? The same principle applies to Open Innovation partners, you should nurture the ones you have, but constantly look for others.
There’s an important sequence to building great Open Innovation partnerships. First you must identify the right companies. Next, you need to attract candidates, and be able to compete against others potentially vying for partnership. Then you need to retain them, to keep them working with you. An important step to do this is to integrate them into your innovation system. Finally, as your ecosystem develops, it is essential to organize your portfolio of partnerships.
How can you work out who the right partner is? In essence it is the company that has the best solution to your need, but also has the best fit with your culture and way of working. They should also offer the most potential for the future. Whilst there will be different criteria used to prioritize the options, it’s important to be as objective as you can.
There is more than one way to identify Open Innovation partners. One approach that I find helpful to use with clients is that consultant classic, the four-box matrix. This one works on familiarity:
The objective is to convert Unknowns into either Suitors or Targets, then into Familiar partners. Some of the actions to take are shown below:
It’s important to constantly work at existing relationships. Expand the ones with potential, but if one has less relevance to your future direction and you can’t find projects to do, there’s nothing wrong in “taking a break” while keeping the doors open. Next, Open Innovation portals are useful in two ways – they can help to spread awareness of your Wants and your openness; and they can be the conduit for you to welcome the approach from those companies who you currently may not know. Last but certainly not least, your active scouting work can approach and secure the companies you have identified as having potential.
So I’ll leave you with some questions to hopefully prompt your thinking.
– What is your approach to Open Innovation partnerships?
– Do you consider and use different ways of identifying and securing partnerships?
– Do you search for novel partners outside your traditional industry?
– Do the Unknowns and Suitors have an easy entry to your company?
– How many new partners did you add in the last year?
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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.