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Developing ideas through Open Innovation

Open innovation is about looking outside your company boundaries to seek the best ideas and solutions for your innovation activities.

While “Open Innovation” in it’s true sense is nothing new, there are many great yet under-utilised ways to achieve the best outputs for your innovation projects.

Open innovation is about looking outside your company boundaries to seek the best ideas and solutions for your innovation activities. Effectively, we’re taking the “not made here” mentality and throwing it where it should be – firmly in the bin.

The biggest challenge we encounter when working with companies on open innovation is that they don’t think widely enough when seeking sources of information. A good example happened in one of our workshops last month, when we were performing an exercise to develop new ideas within a specific sector – confectionary.

We asked the question “How can you make a chocolate coated crisp” (we didn’t want to – the exercise was hypothetical!) to which a confectionary expert suggested “it can’t be done, as the crisps would break during the chocolate coating which requires a process known as tumbling”. That response missed a small but essential point – what it should have said is that “it can’t be done – using the existing knowledge and limitations within our industry”.

Let’s jump sideways to explain this. Good salespeople always ensure that they clearly differentiate between Features and Benefits. Equally, good innovation managers need to add a third aspect to this equation – Application.

Consider a “feature” to be defined as a distinctive characteristic, “benefit” as the value derived and “application” as the specific properties associated for use within a given area. For example, when considering a contactless payment card, one may consider features such as data transfer speed and transmission distance, benefits such as reduced purchase time and hence reduced overall queuing time, and applications such as small transactions in shops or motorway toll booths. Bring all of these together and you define the make-up and use of a contactless payment card pretty well.

How else can you use this technology? Simple. Remove the application, and ask the question “what industry requires a technology that provides contactless data transfer at a given distance to make things move faster”. Immediate thoughts include event ticketing and clocking systems – suddenly you have a rapid basic solution for anything where delays as a result of queues are involved.

So back to our chocolate coated crisps. Remove the application of the confectionary, and ask the question “what methods can be used to coat a number of small, relatively fragile, objects with a semi-solid coating which dries relatively quickly”? Removing the application made the problem more “open” to the transfer of ideas from other sectors.

Within 5 minutes, we had progressed from “it can’t be done” to having 3 different ideas which were all utilised in other industries, including a coating process, a semi-permanent toughening process, and a complete change in process called “just-in-time coating”. This translated to providing the crisp and the chocolate separately, and having the crisp dipped in the semi-solid chocolate immediately prior to eating – think choc-dips for example!

Whether the thought of chocolate coated crisps rocks your boat or makes your stomach turn isn’t the point. The point is, by temporarily “removing the application” you make problems open to new solutions, and you make solutions open to new applications. By doing this, you’ve just multiplied your potential sources of new ideas which are relevant to your problem by at least an order of magnitude.

Still stuck for ideas?!

Richard Harrison