As I prepared for my keynote talk at the re:publica conference in Berlin, I was asked to consider a couple of interesting questions. They went like this:
Are we really open when it comes to open innovation?
What could happen if the whole society innovates together?
It took me a while to reflect on this, but here you get my thoughts.
No, we are not really open when it comes to open innovation. One key reason is that open innovation is primarily driven by big companies and most of them – if not all – have one key objective in common: getting better products and services to market faster in order for them to make more money.
The big companies are in the driver’s seat, they set the direction and they have huge influence on which companies, institutions and organizations that are allowed to join the innovation game. On this, we need to understand that the game of innovation today is very much about being able to assemble the best innovation communities and make them work better than competing counterparts.
What about startups? They have an important role to play in these communities as they bring in new – and sometimes radical – ideas and approaches with regards to technology as well as marketing approaches. But they still have to take the backseat as they do not have the power to influence a marketplace significantly and directly although this is actually changing in these years. In an increasing number of industries, you no longer need to own assets such a production plants, supply chain operations, R&D labs and distribution channels. You “just” need to have access to them. This is a huge positive change for startups and they are starting to tap into this opportunity.
But we are not really open when it comes to open innovation. These innovation communities still fight each other and this will happen as long as businesses – and the marketplaces they create – continue to be the main vehichle for bringing changes to our societies. I don’t see this changing within the next 30 years.
I am actually fine with this. One key reason is that more and more companies are willingly – or forced into – adopting open innovation. We cannot make everyone work together, but we do get everyone to open up within their chosen innovation communities and this bring us what has now become a generally acknowledged benefit of open innovation; better products and services at a faster pace.
But what would it look like if we really worked together? Well, then we could start tackling big problems such as global warming, hunger and wars more successfully than we do today. We could also aim much higher when it comes to being proactive and pursuing opportunities.
Let me use J.F. Kennedy to illustrate the latter. The below text snippets are from his famous “Man on the Moon” speeches given in the early 1960’s.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
“Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment. “
If we really worked together and if we really opened up for innovation across nationalities, functions and beliefs, then we could do crazy things such as conquering space, which in many ways also today hold the key to our future on Earth.
This will not happen because businesses are what they are and do what they do. This will not change in many years and perhaps never. But we can still dream, right? : – )