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Outside / Inside Innovation: Combining Open Innovation with Employee Networks to Drive Success

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Outside / Inside Innovation: Combining Open Innovation with Employee Networks to Drive Success

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Note that this is a summary of a full whitepaper. Read the full whitepaper here >

While Innovation Programs have been around for some time, in the past 2-3 years there has been growth in two-major areas:

  • “Open” Innovation: A methodology, whereby ideas, inspirations and insights are sourced from outside of an organization.
  • Employee Innovation Networks: An approach that connects, educates and engages key employees around innovation skills, on an ongoing basis.

Open Innovation 1To date, both of these areas have been important to innovation leaders but in distinct and parallel ways. While this separation has made sense, it is now important for innovation leadership to consider how these focus areas can be better aligned to enhance business results. This should be considered within the context of interrelated, complex organization structures and the drive to enhance impact in an efficient manner.

As a result of these pressures, innovation leaders are seeking to connecting both Open Innovation and employee networks with a combination of activities, including:

  • Open Innovation training: Companies can educate their employee network members around OI approaches and techniques.
  • Idea Development Training: Networked employees can be trained around how to help build elements of new ideas introduced to an organization.
  • Process, Tools and Resources: It can be beneficial for innovation programs to develop processes, providing resources and tools that guide participants as they seek to support new ideas introduced to the organization from external (or even internal) sources.
  • Communication channels: Communication channels can be created that are directed to network members, in order to encourage discussion around ideas that may be imported into the organization.
  • Strategy: As with any kind of innovation project, it’s important that a strategy is in place that aligns with the priorities of the organization.

The degree of alignment of employee networks and Open Innovation efforts vary, often in order of innovation maturity levels:

  • Awareness: Network members can be made aware of new thinking (specific ideas or thematic trends) that may be introduced into an organization or more broadly around Open Innovation efforts.
  • Champion: As new ideas are introduced to an organization, members can act as champions.
  • Resources: Members of these networks can be used to help develop new ideas, and provide opportunities for quick scaling of thought.

This kind of approach can generate significant benefits to the organization, including:

  • Enhanced idea success rate: Rather than new ideas  being left to fend for themselves, the actions of network members can increase the rate of success of their development and execution.
  • Culture: This combined effort creates a deeper culture of innovation across the organization, by getting more people involved in deeper and more varied ways, in a way that limits risk and wasted resources.
  • Employee engagement: Giving selected employees (through an innovation network) the opportunity to further engage with the outside world, and align themselves with the development of new ideas, is a great way to drive engagement.
  • Scale: This approach helps scale the impact of innovation efforts across often complex organizations.

There are a number of factors driving the adoption of this new combined approach to innovation management.

  • Supporting a Collaborative Environment:For some time organizations have been seeking solutions to create more collaborative organization, often supported by technology solutions and other more personally focused efforts such as training.
  • Seeking the positive deviants: Science fiction author William Gibson famously opined that the future already exists, but that it is unevenly distributed.  This notion, that in any field there are pockets of forward-thinking, was popularized by Richard Pascale’s work around positive deviance. In a corporate context, this theory can be seen as process of using hidden innovators to help scale-up innovation activities more widely.
  • The changing role of managers: It is essential that middle managers are actively encouraged to participate and support both OI and innovation-focused networks.
  • Connecting the dots: Innovation leaders are often seeking to include influential “connectors” within their Employee Innovation Networks, so that they can help drive Open Innovation efforts, as these individuals can help drive the success of new ideas as they seek support within the organization.

Open Innovation 2Given that this is a relatively new approach, and only now being better understood within corporate environments, it is important to fully understand some of the challenges with this kind of effort:

  • Manage resources: Don’t overextend your existing centralized innovation resources, which can be stretched with integrated and complex implementations.
  • Plan: Be sure to have a fully planned strategic framework in place to guide your integration and development efforts.
  • Stakeholder buy-in: Pay special attention to your stakeholders, especially those that are going to be detractors.
  • Be patient: These efforts take time to form and drive results.
  • Report results: Track all business value.

Innovation leaders need to leverage their efforts at every opportunity, in order to not only further drive impact and results, but benefit Business Unit and corporate leadership. By combining both Open Innovation and employee networks, progressive leaders position themselves for creating greater business value and ultimately career success.

Note that a full whitepaper has been developed related to this article, that examines each of the key points from this article in more depth. Feel free to download it here.

By Anthony Ferrier and Adi Gaskell

This article was first published in www.innovationmanagement.se

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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