Improving Design with Open Innovation: A Flexible Management Technology

By Christiansen, John K.; Gasparin, Marta et al. | Research-Technology Management, March/April 2013 | Go to article overview

Improving Design with Open Innovation: A Flexible Management Technology


Christiansen, John K., Gasparin, Marta, Varnes, Claus J., Research-Technology Management


OVERVIEW: Is it necessary or even possible to apply the management technology of open innovation to all projects in the same way? An analysis of the practices used in different product development projects in the same European medical company shows that commercially successful projects did apply many of the best practices for open innovation. However, projects were not equally successful. The outcome seems to be highly influenced by the type of collaborative arrangements used and their application. In particular, the analysis indicates that organizational factors seem to be indicative but not sufficient for success, and some open innovation practices were more successful than others. The most open and exploratory practices were not so successful in this company. This might be due to the nature of innovation, which develops in unpredictable and nonlinear ways. These observations suggest that those involved in open innovation need both a broad knowledge of the various potential elements of an open innovation effort and a flexible attitude toward their application.

KEYWORDS: Innovation management technologies, Open innovation, Adaptation, Sensemaking

Since Henry Chesbrough introduced the paradigm of open innovation in 2003, the concept has been widely adopted and closely studied. Researchers and practitioners have explored the challenges involved in the realization of open innovation ( Slowinski and Sagal 2010 ) and studied the many different ways companies engage in open innovation ( Igartua, Garrigós, and Hervas-Oliver 2010 ; Huizingh 2011 ). However, as Bianchi, and colleagues (2010) note, there has been limited research into the ways in which companies translate the management technology of open innovation into practice across different units and projects. This is particularly important given the malleability of the concept. Open innovation has been discussed as a management practice ( Dahlander and Gann 2010 ), as a conceptual construct ( Euchner 2010 ; Huizingh 2011 ), as a strategy ( Bowonder et al. 2010 ; Igartua, Garrigós, and Hervas-Oliver 2010 ), and as a research field ( Elmquist, Fredberg, and Ollila 2009 ). The diversity of this work suggests that open innovation may have many meanings making it a "rich concept that can be implemented in many different ways" ( Huizingh 2011, 3).

Even as open innovation requires deep changes in a company's established structures, processes, and corporate culture, frontline innovation activities are supported by practices and perceptions that are passed from one employee to the next and from project managers to subordinates. Over time, different organizational units, departments, and functions develop their own procedures based on the units' professional standards, value systems, and internal interpretations of corporate strategies and their roles in the organization. For example, legal departments originally established to protect company intellectual property (IP) and staffed with highly educated lawyers trained to protect IP may find it difficult to integrate more open IP structures that facilitate partnerships and collaborations. In an open innovation context, a company wants not only to protect its IP but also to access IP as a resource. Those involved in implementing open innovation thinking and practices, therefore, need a broad understanding of the concept and of the many ways it can be translated into practice across organizational units and even individual projects.

Our work is aimed at understanding how the concept of open innovation is applied through the lens of local translations into different practices and mobilized in different ways in innovation projects within the same company. By examining the implementation of open innovation in eight projects in the same unit, we illustrate how different translations of the concept manifest themselves in different collaborative practices.

The Four Elements of Open Innovation

Chesbrough describes the evolution of open innovation as beginning with establishing relationships that facilitate knowledge flows, then moving to integrating external technology into the organization while releasing unused internal ideas to other businesses that can use them, and finally, reshaping the business model ( Chesbrough and Euchner 2011 ). …

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