A.T. Kearney recently published an article with the catchy title: Turbocharging Open Innovation in a 100-Day Blitz.
In the article, A.T. Kearney starts out by asking and answering a relevant question: “How do you transform a complacent, conventionally-minded consumer goods manufacturer into an engine for innovation? There are no quick or easy answers to this question. The journey can be lengthy and transformational, one that requires CEO leadership, vision, and stamina. But companies that get the first steps of the journey right are those that are most often rewarded.”
I fully agree that getting the first steps right is important. However, there is just too much contradiction in stating that a journey can be lengthy and then more or less advice that a 100-day speed-trip can work small miracles for a complacent, conventionally minded company.
The first question that pops into my head is this one: How can you even think that the same people that got you into this mess (not being innovative enough) can make a huge difference in just 100 days?
People are habit-creatures and even though many corporate innovators don’t like to admit it, the same goes for them. I would even argue that this is worse with executives who have reached their rank by doing what they do for the last 20-30 years.
You really need to consider whether you have the right people onboard in the first place.
Another thing is that if you launch an initiative with such a promising title, you send a strong signal that things will be different after 100 days. I am sure that the initiative will bring along lots of ideas and perhaps even good ideas, but 100 days are not enough to fully solve or address underlying problems such as not having an innovation strategy in the first place and the lack of strong processes that can take an idea – whether it comes from internal or external sources – to market in a fast and effective manner.
Communication in the form of messages as well as actions is key here. The companies being addressed by A.T. Kearney already have a flawed innovation culture and you if fail once more, then it will be very, very difficult getting employees as well as external stakeholders to rally up the next time you want to try ramp up the innovation efforts.
You simply can’t afford to miss here and thus you need to very careful in promising big changes in just 100 days. In short, A.T. Kearney and their clients need to pay more attention to communication and the perception this builds. If not, then A.T. Kearney might end up putting their clients in even bigger trouble after the engagement ends.
I have a couple of other takes on some of A.T. Kearney’s suggested approaches:
Less is more.
Based on this snippet: “Once the challenges for the 100-day blitz are defined, each one is matched to suitable OI tactics, such as crowdsourcing, key supplier or employee involvement, or even collaboration with companies in other industries facing similar challenges. The trick is to continually engage hundreds of partners, finding an efficient way to distill the best ideas and make sure they do not fall through the cracks.”
One of the key problems with open early stage innovation initiatives is the lack of resources. You don’t need to find hundreds of partners. You don’t have the bandwith to give them a proper treatment anyways.
You “just” need to find enough relevant partners that can help the initiative get some short- and mid-term wins that can help convince the internal skeptics that open innovation is indeed a way forward.
Top executives are too busy and too ignorant to fully commit.
Based on this snippet: “While established ways of working may sustain and grow the core business, they often do not allow the space or environment for supporting true OI. So the next step is integrating innovation into the culture of the organization. This starts at the top, by requiring corporate executives to spend significant time on OI activities, rewarding risk taking and employee participation, and naming senior-level champions for specific OI ideas.”
Hats of to A.T. Kearney for their ambition, but they are being quite naïve here. You are lucky if you can get a few of the top guys onboard at the start of such an initiative. This takes time and these people are busy and they also become fairly skeptical of open innovation once they realize this actually means significant changes to some of their approaches. They have lots of personal capital invested in what is already working (to some extent) and they need to be convinced why they should change their mindset, behaviours and approaches.
You can check out this free chapter from one of my books: Why Top Executives Do Not Get Innovation, Much Less Open Innovation – and What to Do About It
There should not be a thing like “OI ideas” – just ideas.
Based on this snippet: “A process begins of operationalizing innovation within the core business, creating a new set of normal processes and rhythms. Employees actively participate in innovation and problem-solving activities, which are reinforced by including OI in annual performance reviews. OI is transformed into a core competency instead of a curiosity, and new ways of working are embedded into the corporate DNA.”
This makes sense, but you need to be a bit careful here. The term “open innovation” is hype and it will disappear within the next 5-7 years as it merges with the already known although not clearly defined term “innovation”. The point is that companies will not differentiate between open innovation or innovation in the future; they will just bring a higher level of external input into the kind of innovation that we see today.
This is important with regards to the structure of your open innovation initiatives and the communication around this. You need to embed open innovation – or the process of getting external input into your innovation process – as a natural part of your innovation efforts and thus you should not isolate these efforts, but integrate them into your current efforts.
Build on the existing culture and processes.
Based on this snippet: “Importantly, successful OI should defy old ways of working and so should feel at least a little bit uncomfortable. The telltale sign of incrementalism is when organizational resistance to OI programs is absent.”
This builds on my above points. I don’t believe that open innovation should defy old ways of working. You should build on top of them.
A.T. Kearney does make a good point on organizational resistance. This is an important reminder as open innovation is very much about changing how you innovate. You also need to view this as organizational innovation as you to some extent have to engage all of your business units and functions over time.
As a closing remark, I can mention that the people I have met from A.T. Kearney over the years have been bright and smart. I am quite sure they have good intentions and that they can help their clients in many ways.
However, time has shown us that open innovation is difficult for companies to embrace and I just don’t think we need to make things worse by creating the perception that 100 days can really turn a company around.
That is why I reacted to their article. Let me know what you think.