Fernando Fischmann

The 3 Keys to Successful Open Innovation

23 June, 2015 / Articles
fernando fischmann

Much has been written about open innovation as if it were a new idea, or that tech startups are the secret to its success. It’s a lot more complicated than that, and organizations that do it well — like Bayer, Campbell Soup, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — share at least three key approaches, as well as embrace the importance of effective communications.

I had a chance to explore the topic when I moderated a panel at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in San Francisco last month, and here’s what the experts said:

Set goals

“You need to know what you’re trying to achieve,” explained Alexis Bonnell, Innovation Evangelist, from USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab. “When we faced the Ebola crisis, for instance, we had a clear need and timeframe for solutions, so the U.S. Government issued a call to innovators around the world to submit ideas focused on improving the tools used by frontline healthcare workers. In two months we received 1500 ideas. We were able to collaborate with partners around the world and from a variety of industries (some with experience in development, and some without), but the challenge defined a common ground for us to work together.”

“Clearly defining the problem you want to solve helps innovation, open or not,” according to Carlos Barroso, Senior Vice President, Global R&D at Campbell Soup. “Sometimes it happens due to external crisis, while other times it’s in response to shifting consumer behaviors. The hardest part is never the how, but the why.”

Empower creativity

“Once you know the problem, we believe it’s critical to step back and let ideas emerge all around that problem,” said Jeremy Gilman, Global Strategy & Innovation Director at DMI. “Providing this space invites participation, and that’s where the unexpected, transformational innovations are born.”

“We’re lucky,” said Bonnell. “We have an operational innovation team that works with units across USAID to help us develop ways to work more flexibly with partners so that we can really co-create, and work to all partners’ strengths.”

“I’ve yet to meet a lawyer who’d disapprove of a researcher sitting down with a startup and discuss who should own what in plain English before handing it over to the legal team,” added Barroso. “But that’s exactly what you need to do. Legal protections are vitally important, but they shouldn’t be determinant at the point when creativity should rule. And I’ve never seen a contract that can’t be circumvented somehow. Relationships between people are important.”

Chris Haskell, Bayer HeathCare’s Head of U.S. Science Hub, Global External Innovation & Alliances, concurred: “With our 12-15 year development cycles, IP is a crucial component of the process, but so are people. You need trust, and that’s not an outcome from a contract or spreadsheet. So we’ve set up these research programs to engage with startups, because it actually helps that they’re not beholden to us when we want to explore what’s possible.”

Go with the flow

“As an example of what’s possible, we’d established a 6-month research project with a partner at one of our startup incubator companies called Xcell Biosciences, and they came back to us after a month and said that they were able to accelerate the timelines through validation work they had done in the context of work with a different partner,” Haskell continued. “By bringing those conversations earlier into the development cycle, we can benefit from not only partner involvement, but the immense amount of research that exists externally.”

Barroso noted a similar benefit: “We’re always working on ways to enhance the flavor experience, and it turns out that encapsulation technology developed for drugs can be used to deliver flavor at the right time in the mouth. We also encourage our suppliers to cooperate so, for instance, if one has a better onion tech, we suggest that they share it and develop an integrated solution. It’s a mind shift for them, but everyone wins.”

“When you open up your brand to people vested in it, good things happen,” said Gilman. “So you get the benefit of solutions you may not have imagined, combined with the benefits of engaging with communities that can yield future vendors, employees, even evangelists.”

“It’s a game changer,” added Bonnell. “Anything I have seen work has been driven by a passionate owner, and the best open innovation programs engage and grow opinions about your brand.”



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