Three steps to better innovation

Feb 03 2014 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Open innovation doesn't just happen by magic. Companies that want to encourage more open and participatory innovation need to nurture and support it. And according to a new study from the European School of Management and Technology Berlin (ESMT), there are three main practices businesses should out in place if they want to enjoy the benefits of open innovation.

The study, by ESMT Professor Linus Dahlander and Stanford PhD Henning Piezunka, examined the innovation habits of almost 24,000 organisations across multiple sectors which use online feedback and suggestion mechanisms.

Unsurprisingly, they found that the success of these online systems varies widely. But three key factors emerged that seem to affect the degree to which employees engage (or otherwise) in the suggestion process.

1. Offer proactive attention: Instead of just waiting for suggestions, the company should kick-start the conversation with some form of internally-developed suggestion to stimulate debate.

2. Offer reactive attention : Silence is an innovation-killer. Companies need to respond to suggestions and make it clear that they are appreciated and being given proper consideration. This is particularly important for first-time participants, the study found, who can easily be put off the process if they feel their suggestions are being ignored.

3. Catalyse : Organisations should focus their efforts on new users and the early stages of their open innovation effort. In particular, organisations need to be aware of the time, the effort and commitment required to nurture a fledgling forum into a thriving discussion. This includes establishing a process for retrieving, reviewing and responding to suggestions.

"One of the reasons why most organisations fail to elicit suggestions successfully is because outsiders don't see how much effort actually goes on behind the scenes", Professor Dahlander said. But without these steps, many attempts at open innovation will simply wither and die.

"Our suggestions might seem like common-sense rules for successful communication but the reality is that companies frequently underestimate the investment needed and often fail to apply such widely understood best practices when it comes to corporate engagement. If organisations actually adopt the strategies of proactive and reactive attention, they can then unlock the enormous potential of open innovation."