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Open Innovation – Part 1

In the previous article I discussed corporate entrepreneurship as a way of driving innovation in the organisation.  In this article I want to look at a form of innovation that has gained significant traction over the last couple of years, Open Innovation (OI). OI has taken on many forms and there are many different ways of utilising OI, but the basic premise of OI is that an organisation makes use of external sources (outside of the organisation) to innovate.  The term was popularised by Henry Chesbrough in his book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology. He wrote: “Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”.

Open Innovation  
I touched on the theory of OI in a previous article, but to refresh your memory, the philosophy behind OI is that the sphere of knowledge and experience within the organisation is necessarily limited. Worse, it may be further limited by corporate practices and processes. As people become used to working in certain ways and thinking in certain ways at work, they find it increasingly difficult to break out of these moulds and adopt new ways of doing things.
By tapping into external sources, you expand your knowledge base, bring in new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. It is widely known that diverse teams are more creative than teams in which all people come from similar backgrounds. Clearly, then, adding further diversity to internal teams can only improve the creativity and hence the innovation potential of that team and hence the organisation.
OI has developed from a buzzword into an established practice of innovation management. Sources of external input for innovation are plentiful, including market actors like customers, suppliers, competitors; the scientific system of university labs and research institutions; public authorities like patent agents and public funding agencies; and mediating parties like technology consultants, media, and conference organisers.
So, the key aspect of OI is to connect the organisation with a community that can assist with ideas, networking- and other skills; and subsequently OI evolved in such a manner that successful open innovation relies on intermediaries and platforms connecting an organisation with outside solution providers, so called Open Innovation Accelerators (OIAs).  OIAs are intermediaries, consultancies, and agencies helping their clients to accelerate an open innovation project by providing dedicated tools, methods, access to an established community of solvers or participants, but also offer education and process consulting.
In a study done by RWTH Aachen (The 2013 RWTH Open Innovation Accelerator Survey), it was found that there are more than 180 global service providers in the OIA space.  
This is proof that OI is now an established concept that is here to stay; and so are OIAs, who are becoming an important part of the infrastructure for open innovation today. I am aware of a few operational OIAs in South Africa and there are also a few players on the horizon in Namibia.
I think OI is a viable concept, worth exploring in our economy and market place, in terms of “importing” intellectual property and also “exporting” home-grown intellectual property, and it will be interesting to see how the use of OI develops and grows in Namibia.

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