Collaborative Structures for Open Innovation, part 3

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Quote taken from Alice in Wonderland

Knowing what question to ask is just as important as being able to find the best answers. Knowing how to frame that question can take us a step further and ensure we are primed to look in the right places too.

In part 3 of my exploration of collaborative structures for open innovation I’ll be forming the questions that will frame the generation of ideas. Using the productive thinking process, I have already taken a very quick look at the general concept of open innovation and what a successful collaboration might look like. Today’s discussion will set the stage for a creative exploration of our challenge:

“what kind of collaborative structures can businesses use to source and exploit new ideas?”

Existing Approaches to Open Innovation

Before we start our search for direction, here’s a quick look at a few examples of existing efforts in open innovation and collaboration between businesses.

  • Grow VC – a connection hub designed to bring together early stage entrepreneurs, accredited investors, and experts/service providers. New startups post their concept and any offer for investment or services. Providers can follow, invest and offer services in exchange for the equity offered.
  • Kickstarter – one of many crowd funding platforms in which individuals post products in need of funding, and buyers make pledges for payment. The product is launched once enough pledges have been made. Buyers often get some kind of special offer in return for their pledge e.g. a signed copy of the book.
  • Innocentive – seekers post a problem, and seekers compete (individually or in self formed teams) to solve it. The winner (with the best solution) is usually able to claim some sort of cash payment or prize.
  • Barter card – a B2B market place enabling businesses to trade their idle resources and capacity in exchange for services (and not cash payment). An example might be a shop trading access to its premises at night (when it is closed) in exchange for book keeping services (from the accounting firm who locate their during these hours).

Note: I’ve included Barter Card because it is an interesting take on the marketplace metaphor and because it does actually achieve some form of collaboration and sourcing of resources from outside of the business. It just happens that the resources in question are more tangible than the intellectual capital being exchanged in the traditional open innovation space.

What problem are we trying to solve?

Ideas only have value if they are filling a need or solving a problem for somebody. Knowing what this problem is, and who stands to benefit from your idea is vital to being able to implement your ideas successfully. Building on some of the success criteria we identified in part 2, here is an update list of benefits along with the problems they will be solving and the customers or users affected:

  • Finding People: collaboration needs to connect people and give them a space where they can work together. This gets harder as groups get bigger, and as we remove the barriers to look outside of a single business. When you start including global communities of interest, you need help to enable people to find each other.
  • Sharing Resources: once you move beyond discussion forums and ideation work outs, work needs to take place. This can be anything from  creating prototypes and doing market research to sourcing investment dollars or starting a business. Depending on the transaction taking place, the collaboration will need to solve the problem of how different organisations trade and use resources
  • Making Decisions: groups need leaders as well as a shared vision and some agreement for reaching agreement. In my humble opinion the effective group also needs a facilitation based mechanism for including all group members and reaching consensus in all decisions. See here for more on this.
  • Recognising Value: our collaboration market place also needs to operate effectively (or people will stop using it to trade resources), this requires a clear and equitable approach to valuing ideas, goods and services. Listening to stories of exploitative crowd sourcing efforts and inventors with an over inflated sense of an ideas worth leads me to conclude that this is a non trivial problem.
  • Information Flow: collaborative structures need information to flow freely or they don’t work. Working out what information to share, with whom and when can also be a tricky problem to solve as illustrated by the secretive entrepreneur unwilling to tell anyone about their idea in case it gets stolen.

The Questions

There are multiple problems to be solved, some of which appear to be inter dependent on one another. This is my take on the questions to be asked:

  1. (open innovation) How can businesses, groups and individuals trade goods, services, capital and IP to bring ideas to life?
  2. (collaboration) How can businesses, groups and individuals find each other and work together in a self organising system with emergent decision making and a culture of collaborative communication, ideation, experimentation and implementation?
  3. How can businesses use open innovation and collaboration strategically?

In my next post I’ll begin my search for answers. Feedback welcome.

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