Monday, May 5, 2008

Open Source Innovation: What is it?

Each year our planet’s inhabitance’ become more competitive with one another for resources. Whether you’re a starving artist who dreams of one day selling your work, or a well established corporate giant looking for the next best thing, we are all looking for ways to produce products which are unique and in demand. Without continual growth and innovative change we will become stagnant; our products will become dinosaurs irrelevant to the fast changing consumer environment we are confronted with today.

In the past organizations have confronted this need for continuous refinement with vigilant research and design teams but, today the speed of communication and technology has for many, changed the equation. To stay relevant and satisfy customer needs many groups have chosen to open up their research and design efforts to the public.

By supporting web sites and blogs dedicated to consumer feedback and product suggestions, organizations are able to collect valuable data which can be instrumental in successful product innovation. While internal R&D teams may have explored many of the incoming outsider ideas themselves previously, there is also the possibility that many minds are greater than the few (especially when they belong to the individuals who utilize the products); who is better to generate a demand than those with a need?
What problems does it present?

Of course there are many problems presented with open innovation, as it is an innovative idea in itself. To begin with, someone needs to support and mange the meeting place; take care of software and site maintenance. Another concern, which is of monumental proportion, is how to compensate outside contributors. To what extent does one idea contribute to product innovation? How many ideas where built on and modified before a challenge was overcome? Open innovation may create a demand for us to refine our copyright guidelines and force us to deal with intellectual property in another way.
Another problem, which I believe will be a great obstacle and which may not be so obvious, is how to manage volumes of consumer feedback if it does arrive on the organization’s doorstep. Who will determine whether the ideas are old hat or fresh perspectives? Someone will need to extract that data and they will need to manage it properly or it may itself represent a missed opportunity for the organization.
The open sourcing of innovative efforts doesn’t represent an end to internal R&D efforts but it does create some interesting demand for creative individuals outside of the product development area. As I have mentioned, organizations will need to manage the information as it comes in. Having individuals who can see the potential in ideas and extract value from the various inputs will inevitably be an asset.

Open source innovation is testament to the notion that product innovation is less frequently a genius revelation from one mind than it is the collective creative results of many minds. Organizations who seek to compete in our rapidly changing environments will need to rely more and more heavily on creative solutions. To stay viable both products and people alike must become more sensitive to new ways of looking at things and also be ready to adapt and react to the demands of an ever changing consumer’s marketplace.

Open source innovation is a response to the need for rapid development but I think it also represents a new era in creative collaboration. Many may resist the change but I believe it is inevitable. In the past, customer collaboration of this kind could have only been possible through a promotion or contest but today it has the potential to become a standard of product innovation. With its’ inception will come many new challenges as well as countless new opportunities.
Shawn Hess, ICSC Graduate Student


Cindy said...

I'm visualizing a red ball rapidly passed from person to person, up the side of a cliff. Each person makes their relatively slow climb up the cliff; They receive the fast moving ball, become excited, innovation pops to mind, they become excited again to share it, and pass it on.

Crowd Sourcing said...


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