From Ideas to Impact: Demystifying the Open Innovation Journey

By Keaton Swett | March 28, 2024

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Key Points

It's natural to seek concrete examples of tangible products from open innovation challenges.

However, the nature of open innovation often makes it challenging to make direct correlations between idea generation and product realization.

The solution lifecycle resembles that of an initial idea for a novel--there are many iterations before the final outcome.

Prospective clients often ask us to give examples of products directly resulting from our open innovation challenges. It’s natural to seek concrete examples of tangible products from these initiatives. It’s true that we have launched many open innovation challenges where a direct line can be drawn between a proposed solution and a new product or strategy. However, the nature of open innovation often makes it challenging to provide direct or “straight line” correlations between idea generation and product realization.

One barrier to offering examples is the non-disclosure agreements that are put in place. Open innovation is often part of a client’s research and development arm, which is confidential by nature. We, therefore, don’t share details about clients and winning solutions.

There’s also a practical reason we sometimes can’t connect a specific solution to a specific product. Understanding the relationship between open innovation and final products requires recognizing the non-linear nature of the innovation process. Unlike traditional linear innovation models, open innovation is a dynamic journey characterized by iterations, pivots, and unexpected discoveries. Rather than straight lines, the solutions the client selects for further consideration are more often connected to final products by dotted lines and squiggles.

To illustrate this concept, consider the analogy of crafting a novel.  A writer has an idea—or, more likely, a spark of an idea—and sets about developing it into a narrative. The idea requires research to verify its viability, and the research results may require modifying the original idea. As the writing process progresses and chapters are built, the idea will likely change further, even to the point of no longer resembling the original one.  When the initial version of the book is complete, the writer goes back through it multiple times to refine, improve, and polish the prose. Finally, it heads to the publisher, where it may further evolve under an editor’s hand. The published work in a bookstore is invariably quite different from the initial idea.

Following an open innovation challenge, solution selection resembles compiling a diverse portfolio of ideas, each with its unique potential for development. The path from idea to implementation is not without its complexities; ideas undergo rigorous scrutiny against organizational objectives and market dynamics, leading to the convergence, divergence, or abandonment of concepts. Using our analogy, each idea is developed into its own narrative and then either further developed, combined with other narratives, or consigned to the circular file. While the final output or solution may look markedly different from the initial idea, it does not detract from its value and significance. Without the starting point of that first idea, the end solution would probably not have been realized.

This lifecycle journey is a key reason why you can’t always request an exhaustive list of products that sprang fully formed from the results of open innovation projects. While the quest for tangible products may be sought as a barometer for the success of open innovation initiatives, it’s important to keep in mind that the value of open innovation challenges lies in fostering a culture of exploration, collaboration, and adaptation within an organization. By embracing the dynamic nature of open innovation, enterprises can kickstart the necessary process of discovery, iteration, and development of solutions by filling their pipeline with a diverse set of intriguing ideas.

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