6 Steps Towards Building a Culture of Open Innovation

Posted by jartese on Nov 22, 2013 12:25:30 PM

Creating an environment conducive to open innovation does not and cannot happen overnight. That’s because open innovation isn’t really a one-time event. It’s both a process and a culture. The first entails a series of steps, which will be discussed later. The second will naturally result from how effective an organization is in implementing these steps.

Here are the steps.

Step 1: Identify Cultural Roadblocks to Innovation and Collaboration

Think about your existing corporate culture. It’s not only hurting the bottom line, it’s also blocking people from doing their best. You simply can’t ignore what’s already there. To build a culture of open innovation, you have to identify first which aspects need to be changed.

Brian Halligan of HubSpot agrees that a lot of company cultures are stuck in the past. Their traditional “best practices” no longer works and are obviously not the best by today’s standards.

Now think about your own company culture. Does it rely on know-it-all, control freak managers and micro managers? That might explain why nothing new and fresh ever gets introduced during meetings or group discussions. What about a rigid top-down approach? Hierarchical cultures typically ignore those at the bottom. Unlike an open horizontal culture, a stiff top-down organization is likely to ignore feedback, which may lead to a creative or innovative solution.

Open innovation, more importantly, is often a casualty of the narrow “profit and efficiency” thinking. By narrowly focusing on these two concepts, organizations fail to see the bigger picture and fail to consider what will happen in the long run.

The lesson here is deceptively simple: start with people. Encourage them to be creative and empower them further with workplace that welcomes and nurtures innovative solutions and ideas.

Step 2: Define What Innovation Means to Your Organization

There is no cookie-cutter plan to innovation. There is no single “open innovation” blueprint that apples to all companies of any size or industry. But there is, however, the right approach to open innovation, one that effects real change in your company culture. And it all starts with your definition of innovation.

What does innovation mean to your company? Different companies have different ways of looking at innovation. For BMW, innovation may mean making the best car in the market. Innovation, for post-Jobs Apple, may not necessarily mean a new gadget but a process of perfecting existing lines of hardware and software products. Compare that with what innovation meant during Jobs’ reign. Different, yes?

Now let’s talk about your own definition of innovation. This will help your organization specify which innovation goals to achieve and which innovation behavior to encourage. Open innovation itself is an abstract concept. Discuss and write it down so that everyone can easily understand it.

Step 3: Leverage Technology to Improve Your Internal Collaboration

A culture of open innovation heavily relies on technology to facilitate and speed up communication and collaboration. This goes beyond email. Technology accommodates more than message sending and receiving. Here’s how you can make the most out of it.

1. Encourage employees to share and discuss ideas in a forum or group. A forum is one the older yet most effective tools when it comes to attracting active participants in a discussion.

2. Make it easy for employees to share files and work together on a project or experiment. Make use of file-sharing applications such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. Editorially and Quip are two other sophisticated applications specifically designed for collaborative writing and editing.

3. Encourage employees to build an internal information bank and share knowledge with the help of wikis. A wiki, which is the same technology that fuels Wikipedia, allows users to create new pages or documents and link them to related material. It’s a powerful research tool that can save employees hundreds of hours each year. What’s more, wikis are one of the best ways to circulate new ideas and keep employees up-to-date.

4. Use internal collaboration tools to help employees achieve their targets. Make it easy for specific users to access a document or material needed to move the project forward. And more importantly, make it easy for everyone to discuss a project without having to open multiple browser tabs and software.

Step 4: Involve Everyone in the Project

In a truly innovative company, everyone is an active participant and contributor. Each employee goes to work motivated to contribute something new, and each goes home satisfied after applying themselves to their work 100 percent.

Now why does it matter that everyone actively participates? For a start, everyone, including those outside the organization, is free to discuss their ideas no matter how unconventional these ideas are. Everyone is also free to criticize or expose weak ideas and support strong ideas. What exactly happens here is that weak ideas are culled or set aside in order to give strong ideas a change. It’s a natural process, not a forced one imposed by some authority.

It’s easy to pay lip service to open collaboration and crowdsourcing. Don’t. Talking doesn’t work, so why not implement radical strategies instead? Hire or acquire teams that get things done. Consider skilled individuals who doesn’t seem to fit in your existing company culture. Set up research centers to encourage a cross-pollination of ideas. The list goes on. But then again, the goal is simple: make sure everyone brings a positive contribution. Startups and tech companies are doing it, your organization can definitely do it too.

Step 5: Measure What Matters and Ignore the Rest

There are important metrics used in tracking a company’s ROI. You probably know about them already. But do you know that there are also metrics used in fine-tuning an open innovation strategy? If you’re not comfortable with the term metrics, just think of it this way. There’s always a need to measure what matters in any business process.

In terms of building an culture of open innovation, organizations need to measure “progress” initially in terms of participation, training, research and engagement. How many active projects are there? How many new ideas have been generated over time? What percentage of the budget is spent on research and exploration of emerging trends? How many innovation-related recognition and awards did the company earned?

As your innovation-related programs mature, you can eventually focus your attention to core business metrics such as ROI, number of new product launched and the likes.

Step 6: Embrace and Learn from Failure

This is one of the hardest advice to accept. Many executives, in fact, look down on failure and treat it as a sign of weakness. But failure is actually just a necessary part of every venture, commercial or not. Take a look at the top global companies today and dig a little deeper. Each of them has encountered failure in the past. What separates them from mediocre companies is the wisdom of their leaders to learn from failure. It sounds cheesy but true.

Encourage employees to think differently about failure. Don’t let them ignore it. Let them face it, do something about it and gain wisdom from it. This happened to Steve Jobs when he was forced to leave Apple and to Jack Dorsey when he was kicked out of Twitter.

Topics: Innovation Insights

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