Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cambridge Open Innovation Workshop - Session 2

The following are notes from the 2nd session of the Open Innovation Workshop at Cambridge University in the UK May 22nd and 23rd of 2008.

Sungjoo Lee from Cambridge University talked about some of the attributes of open innovation in small and medium enterprises. Some of these traits included:

  • SMEs have advantage in flexibility but disadvantages in scale
  • Challenges transformation invention to innovation (and to commercialization).
  • Intermediaries to facilitate open innovation are helpful. Roles are to maintain a relevant database of information and contacts, create the network and perhaps most importantly, create a collaborative culture.
  • Customer-provider, strategic alliance or inter-firm network are common models

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Charlotte Wieder from PCO Innovation (Montreal and France) and the Grenoble Institute of Technology provided an interesting framework for an innovation audit tool. Her framework consists of four agility drivers:


  • Uncertainty Management
  • Knowledge and Learning Management
  • Multiple Valuations Management
  • Collaboration Management

Each of these comes with a best practices grid that breaks each area into more granular areas to assess. Wieder didn’t have time to go too in-depth into the specifics of her model, but her work strikes me as important because it addresses some key gaps in the management of innovation. Specifically, there is a lack of process checklists and metrics for the innovation process. These are very difficult to make generalizable, but I have to applaud her efforts to do so as the innovation movement needs far more of a scientific/best practices aspect to it. It sounds like her research is definitely worth a read in the future.

Ethan Mollick, a PhD from the MIT Sloan School of Management gave a talk called “Notes from the Underground” which was undoubtedly the most entertaining so far. Ethan’s work focuses on user based innovation by the individual. Ethan pointed out some pretty interesting statistics with regard to the Sims – its users have created 20,000 kinds of chair, nearly 100,000 articles of clothing and 52 different goatees. Video games rule.

Ethan’s larger point is that communities and companies have become tightly aligned. Allowing user modifications has boosted revenue and adds features at little or no incremental cost once a platform has been created. It means strategies beyond just making a video game and putting it out there. There need to be mechanism to reward community members who participate. For instance, allowing them to keep a piece of the revenue, giving them access to features or new releases, and having external forums where credit can be amply taken and given. There must be formal mechanisms to listen to users, and for users to share ideas about what they want.

David Simoes Brown talked about how NESTA is promoting innovation in the UK. They are providing intermediary services to help innovations create more commercially viable products. They have helped form venture operations and collaboration program for large firms (for instance, Rolls Royce, McLaren Applied Technology, BBC Labs, Shell GameChanger.)

Corporate open innovation is still in the early adopter phase that needs more proof of effectiveness. There are still many barriers, according to Brown, but overall, much more attention needs to be paid to human factors.

The discussion part was interesting, especially when they discussed how to handle the key issues of intellectual property. Wieder said there should be a common typology for different types of collaboration – a great idea, but not sure how this could ever happen. Simoes Brown really felt that on the path to commercialization, there should be a spirit of sharing. What he said is fairly idealistic in terms of how companies actually work though it appears. The moderator Tim Minshall summed it up nicely by saying “Never spend too much money or lawyers – or too little.”

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