Open Innovation From A Practitioner's Perspective


Engagement In Innovation Networks

(The following post is an excerpt from a Global Innovation 50-page report I wrote for the University of San Francisco. It focuses on  engagement in social networks, but I believe that these same exact principles apply when building innovation networks).

Before any company attempts to leverage an existing network (or create a new one), they must understand the various levels of engagement found in online networks.  This is important knowledge that will help a company develop the right tactics to get the most out of a network strategy.  When launching a new network (internal or external) opportunities for participation should be focused and maximized.  By understanding that there is more than one way to participate (and contribute) in these networks, an appropriate strategy that utilizes all levels of contribution can be implemented.  In addition, it is important to select platforms and tools that are designed to make it easy for people to understand what is being asked of them.  Simplicity and clarity are key to entry participation at any level.  Too often companies will shut down what they consider to be an unproductive network without setting appropriate goals for engagement and contribution from the network participants at all levels.[1]

These levels of participation are often described as a ladder of contribution (Forrester) or a pyramid of participation (Altimeter Group) as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 below.  Both models describe the various steps and stages of participation.  It is important to recognize that valuable contributions take place at every level of the ladder or pyramid.  Too often in social networks, organizations focus on the very top level of contribution.  But because these kinds of contributors represent a small percentage of the overall number of participants, many social networks are prematurely deemed failures because the majority of participants did not edit a Wiki, publish a blog, or write an article.  Regardless of whether it’s a ladder or a pyramid, the percentage of users who actually create this kind of content is smaller than anyone thinks.  Take this example:  using the engagement pyramid to assess Wikipedia, less than 1% of the user community is considered active contributors. The actual ratio is 85,000 (out of over 11 million registered users) who create content.[2]  Even with this tiny group of active contributors, Wikipedia remains an explosive example of an open innovation community.

In addition to nurturing participation at all levels, the other lesson here is that companies need to understand how their target audience wants to interact with social media.  It is important to consider that the media your audience interacts with also determines their level of engagement.  Some people may be active readers and may occasionally comment on what they read while others prefer to upload videos on video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube) or pictures on photo sharing sites (such as Flickr).  While value can be derived from all of these forms of engagement, it is important to understand who is in the community and what their social media interests are before assessing the “success” of the levels of network engagement.

   Figure 1.  Forrester Ladder of Engagement

              Figure 2.  Engagement Pyramid in Social Networks

[1] Most companies tend to focus only on one level of contribution, such as a blog post or wiki entry.

Filed under: community, definitions, ,

Six Ideas To Drive Culture Change In Innovation

Ask any innovation consultant or innovation employee within a company and they’ll both agree that long-lasting success in new models for innovation boils down to one key issue: changing the corporate culture to embrace these new approaches.Without culture change you will not achieve long-term success. You may have an occasional win here and there, or an occasional breakthrough may occur but this is not the same as a sustainable, permanent change in your “business model” for innovation.




With than in mind, we did an informal survey of recommendations from several sources, added some of our own ideas, and compiled our list of top six recommendations:

1) Build Collaboration into Your Employee Evaluation System (source: Business Week and 3M)


From the BW article: “Reward employees not just for developing an innovative technology, idea, or process, but for spreading it. No company reaps the benefits of collaboration if their employees or managers are hoarding innovation in order to look good at the next quarterly meeting.”

2) Create Innovation Funds (source: Business Week and 3M)

As stated in the article, “Managers focused on core-related projects often don’t want to spend money exploring or developing innovative ideas. To overcome this common roadblock, companies should create an alternative source—3M calls these Genesis Grants—that employees can go to for funding of innovation projects that don’t fit neatly into existing departments.”

3) Innovation Events need to be part of an Overall Strategy

While contests and prize-based challenges can be important elements of an innovation strategy, these should not be your only focus. Look for ways to develop ongoing innovation activities such as allowing employees to dedicate a certain % of their time to unstructured thought and creative thinking. All innovation activities must be conducted in the context of an ongoing innovation strategy.

4) Encourage Risk Taking

While this is nothing new, what is needed are fresh approaches to encourage risk taking. One idea is to have employees share failures internally in order to learn from (and accept) unsuccessful projects. This can go a long way to developing a culture that encourages (and does not punish) risk-taking. Intel calls their approach Failing Forward.

5) Look Inside the Company First

Too often companies rush to drive external innovation without first considering whether they have fully exhausted all internal sources. Turning your innovation strategy inward (as a starting point) will not only ensure you have uncovered all possible internal sources of innovation but it helps companies practice the necessary skills that will serve them well when they go external – skills such as framing the right question, learning to collaborate, and driving transparency in the organization.

6) Top Management Must Show Support

Senior leadership must not only talk the talk, but they need to walk it too. And how can they walk it? By developing and communicating a clear strategy on what steps they are going to take to support new approaches to innovation. They could start with steps 1-5 outlined here.

Filed under: definitions, general, Uncategorized, , ,

Key Skills for Individual Innovators

The conversation today on innovation tends to focus on the corporate level  – how can companies prepare themselves, how should they be organized, who are the best of the best, etc. It’s time we take a look at what needs to happen at the individual level (after all this is where “the rubber meets the road” when it comes to successful innovation).

The new innovation framework will require the development of new skills for all players.  These new skills will allow individuals (and ultimately companies) to thrive in this new paradigm.  A few critical skills that will significantly aid individual innovators are:

  • Learn to frame the question properly – When presented with a challenge, too often as individuals we focus immediately on ways to solve that challenge without taking into consideration whether or not it was a well-defined challenge to begin with.  Take a step back from the problem you are trying to solve and try to come up with new ways to ask the question. Become skilled in clear oral and written communication. Develop a “Frame and Connect” mindset – these new insights can go a long way to getting to the right answer!
  • Think of yourself as a solution finder – Most of us have been trained in a system that rewards individual achievement, however today’s achievements will be increasingly collaborative.  Instead of an individual performer solely responsible for a problem, think of yourself as the solution finder and utilize whatever helpful collaboration is out there.  Your value lies in defining the problem and identifying a valid solution rather than creating that valid solution.  Ask yourself how big and how good is the solution.
  • Learn to collaborate and share – Collaboration is taking on a new meaning; one where individuals freely contribute their thoughts and ideas without any guarantee of reciprocation or compensation.  For example, there are many open commons movements that are driving idea sharing and collaboration to new levels.  They are focused on topics such as open source software (Drupal), open science movements (, and open publishing communities such as (Public Library of Science, or PLoS), to name a few.
  • Stay informed with filtered information – With so many sources of information at our disposal, it can be overwhelming to attempt to digest everything we see and read.  Instead of examining the volume of information, examine how you filter it and manage information.  For example, limit the number of information sources you utilize to a select and relevant few.  Identify a handful of experts and thought leaders and read their blogs and articles regularly; let them be your filters and serve you up the most interesting information.

Any other skills? Please share your comments.

Filed under: definitions, general, ,

Innovation is Alive and Well in Colombia

I’m a native of Bogota, Colombia but have spent the vast majority of my life in the US.  I always thank my mom and dad for keeping the culture (and language) alive while growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. I owe so much to them!

I’ve always bragged about Colombia’s excellent exports (coffee, flowers, music, dancing) while constantly enduring the still-lingering negative image that Colombia has in the states (I’m sick of the Pablo Escobar and cocaine jokes – no mas!!).

During my time spent in Boston (2001- 2006) I came across many talented, well-educated Colombians who were living there and pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at what it seemed like every university in the area. These new friendships gave me a great opportunity to visit my home country and I was able to do so several times. I hadn’t been there since the early ’80s and it was a great experience to reacquaint myself with that great country and it’s people.

And I saw many excellent examples of innovation in the civic and social sectors. The two that come to mind are the Transmillenio (here and here) and Ciclovia. I currently live in San Francisco and the SF Sunday Streets Program was directly inspired by Colombia. I can think of a few US cities (Houston, LA) that should adopt the Transmillenio model for public transportation.

Fast forward to August of this year and I found myself again in Colombia, this time in Medellin (for the first time) and as a member of the University of San Francisco School of Business – Silicon Valley Immersion Program. We were conducting a series of workshops with CREAME, a Medellin-based organization that is nurturing the entrepreneur and investor community in Medellin.

In our workshop we ran a series of lectures (and one class project) focused on growing your startup, business model innovation, open innovation and managing confidentiality / IP. I can’t put into words how impressed I was with the quality of entrepreneurs, consultants and investors that I met. I learned as much from them as they (hopefully) learned from us. We gave them almost three days of intense lectures culminating in a project where groups of 6-7 students worked with real entrepreneurs with real startups and were asked to provide them with strategies on open innovation, confidentiality / IP, marketing your startup (Crossing the Chasm) and we even had them propose a new business model for each startup! The entrepreneurs were very appreciative of the quality of advice they received and the students really demonstrated a strong understanding of what was taught. I also came across a great blog written by one of the students.

I also met several people working at EAFIT University, a major university in Medellin which has a great innovation program led by Jorge Mesa.

One tip should you ever visit Colombia: be sure to enjoy the wonderful food, the great people and the incredible Juan Valdez Coffee (just remember – they don’t do coffee to go in Colombia, you need to sit down and enjoy it on the spot!):

Thank you to everyone I met and I look forward to my return trip!

Filed under: general, leaders, Uncategorized

What Went Wrong With The Crowdsourced Ideas For BP Oil Spill?

BP has received a lot of criticism for failing to respond adequately (or in a timely manner) to the thousands of ideas that it received, both solicited and unsolicited. If they (BP) would have followed a few key elements of open innovation and crowdsourcing, perhaps this would have had a better result. As of this post, I am aware that BP is currently reviewing the submissions and hopefully they’ll glean something of value to prevent future disasters of this scale.

Where did they go wrong?

1) Asking the Question: Trying to present a single solution that addressed all of the challenges facing BP is like trying to cure cancer with one experiment. What BP should have done is break the challenge down into various key categories (containment, recovery, clean up, etc) and posed a series of requests in each category. That would have directed the crowd to focus on one area or another.

2) Collaboration: To my knowledge, both the solicited and unsolicited ideas were brought forward by individuals and/or companies, with no ability to see each others ideas and build or improve them. A more collaborative process would have gone a long way to improve the quality of ideas and perhaps even reduce the total number of ideas (since people would find other ideas to build on before entering their own).

3) Filters: clearly with this number of ideas you need filters. Again, with a truly crowdsourced and collaborative process the crowd can act as a filter. Not sure how BP is filtering / analyzing the ideas submitted but I’m pretty sure that at this point the crowd isn’t involved.

Perhaps one thing they did achieve (not by design, I might add) was diversity. It looked like they were getting ideas from all over the world and from a diverse group of participants. What a wasted opportunity.

Lastly, perhaps there is a chance for BP to open up these submissions to the global community and see if they can salvage some ideas to prevent this from happening again in the future. I’m sure there are a few diamonds in that pile of information.

Filed under: community, news, Uncategorized, , , ,


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