For our most recent assignment, we were asked to research an area of openness previously unfamiliar to us. As someone who has spent most of my career in commercial roles, I was particularly interested to discover an approach that balances openness with commercial viability – open innovation. I had not previously come across this term, although I have seen the concept in action.
Open innovation covers a range of ways in which organisations use external knowledge to help their innovation processes, including acquiring knowledge from others, licencing innovations for use by others, or partners gaining privileged access to each other’s knowledge. It has been defined as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively” (Chesbrough et al, 2006).
We were asked to consider five specific questions.
1) who is/are the main spokesperson(s) for this initiative
It’s hard to identify one in particular, but the term “open innovation” was coined by American academic Henry Chesborough (2003), in his book, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting From Technology. His starting point was investigating why Xerox developed so many groundbreaking technologies, which they then failed to exploit. His research suggested that the technologies needed to be exploited in a different environment, in other words they were insufficiently open. Companies cited as using open innovation include Procter & Gamble, Cisco Systems, Philips Electronics, IBM and Fiat.
2) where the research and activity around it is occurring
All over the world – significant recent research has come from Asian academics, perhaps reflecting the sophistication of many Asian technology companies.
3) why it appears to be happening now or in this form (which are the apparent drivers and motivators)
Open innovation is not a new approach, but seems to be becoming more popular. The reasons are not entirely clear but probably include advances in communication technology, globalisation and the increasing complexity of innovation.
4) what product(s) or progress is/are apparent
Some companies are using open innovation very successfully but others are being held back by their managerial processes and culture, for example the “not invented here” syndrome (Lichtenthaler, 2011)
5) how these might connect now, or in the future, with learning and teaching activity.
Learning and teaching tends to be by its nature more “open” than commerce, but issues of value capture cannot be completely ignored. This is particularly relevant for me as I work for a for-profit education provider, where considerations of openness must be balanced with commercial ones. This is not always taken into account in discussions, as observed by Chesbrough et al (2006),
“While open-source shares the focus on value creation throughout an industry value chain, its proponents usually deny or downplay the importance of value capture”
This can be naïve and lead to practices that are not sustainable. Like it or not (and many don’t), all universities are being forced to be more commercial in their outlook and think about how they are funded. This may mean that those in education have something to learn from the open innovation approach that balances openness with being commercially viable.
Chesborough, H. (2003) Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Harvard Business School Press, Boston
Chesborough, H. Vanhaverbeke, W. & West, J. (Eds.) (2006) Open innovation: Researching a new paradigm. Oxford University Press, Oxford
Lichtenthaler, U. (2011), “Open innovation: past research, current debates, and future directions”, The Academy of Management Perspectives, vol 25 No. 1, pp. 75-93