Masterclass: Open-source innovation

What is it? R&D used to be an utterly hush-hush affair. If someone from outside the company found out about a new product or service too early, that person would have to be killed - metaphorically speaking, anyway. But these old attitudes are changing. There is now a growing sense in leadership teams that new ideas will only be created by opening up the corporate citadel to outside influence. That means partnerships, of course, but more than that, it means actively seeking the views of outsiders at an early, developmental stage, allowing word to get out and hoping for cross-fertilisation.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Where did it come from? Linux, the world's rival computer operating system to Windows, is a model of open-source innovation. It just 'emerged': software programmers gave of their time and expertise freely in order to help create an alternative to Bill Gates' giant beast. Now more and more businesses want to 'bring the outside in' in the search for innovation. Procter & Gamble is perhaps the best example. It has bought or 'insourced' several new product ideas in a (successful) attempt to refresh its product range.

Where is it going? Open-source innovation is now deeply fashionable. It is in tune with the spirit of 'wikinomics', and the idea that 'none of us is as smart as all of us'. So a lot of people are going to pretend to believe in open innovation without actually doing it properly. Openness does not come naturally to executives who have built a career by keeping their cards close to their chest. Prof Hank Chesbrough of the Haas Business School in Berkeley, California, has written the key book on the subject (Open Innovation, HBS, 2003) - read that before signing up for any well-intentioned but flawed corporate initiatives.

Fad quotient (out of 10): Nine, and edging even higher.

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