Enterprises of every size are focusing more attention on innovation. The number of books, articles, seminars and conferences which cover innovation seem to be multiplying at a dizzying rate. And of course, the emergence of professional innovation gurus clearly evidences that we have reached some new milestone in the science of innovation.
Underlying all of this activity is an ongoing evolution in organizational innovation strategies. At its core is the expansion of innovation from the realm of the few to the domain of the many. As innovation strategies evolve, I believe they will be characterized by an ever expanding number of people who become part of the innovation process.
In 1876 Thomas Edison moved his employees to Menlo Park, New Jersey, (menloparkmuseum.org) where he established the worlds’ first research and development facility. At Menlo Park, Edison and his team created over 400 inventions including the phonograph and the electric light. Edison coined the term “Invention Factory” to describe what was happening in Menlo Park. This approach to innovation is a core part of virtually every organization’s innovation strategy. Bell Laboratories, Microsoft Research and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) are the modern equivalents, founded on the notion that innovation and invention are best performed by a select few.
More recently organizations have realized that their innovation strategies must evolve to enable a greater number of employees to participate in the process. In 2006, Matthew May wrote The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation in which he described how Toyota managed innovation:
Toyota realized that by expanding the number of people involved in innovation — from the relative few who worked within their R&D labs to almost everyone within the organization — they could dramatically increase the speed of innovation. Today many companies (including my own) are incorporating Toyota’s organizational model innovation into their own strategies.
Even as companies work to extend innovation to their entire organization, it is clear that there is yet a further stage of innovation expansion. Open innovation expands the potential source of innovation far beyond the bounds of any single organization. As Henry Chesbrough wrote in Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm (2006):
A handful of pioneers have already begun the open innovation process. In the book Game Changer, A.G. Lafley — recent chairman and CEO of P&G — describes how P&G’s approach to open innovation is instrumental to their ongoing success. In contrast to conventional wisdom that true game changing innovations come mostly from small companies, Lafley shows how open innovation has enabled P&G to become one of the most innovative and successful companies of the 20th century.
Open innovation is also at the core of the open source software development model (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_and_open_source_software). Individual software developers from around the world collaboratively developed the Linux operating system. It is widely believed that the Linux quality meets or exceeds the quality of more traditionally developed commercial software and was developed with far less resources.
Each innovation strategy, from laboratory to organization to open should be considered as part of every corporate innovation strategy. Laboratory models have had the greatest success in creating dramatic innovations while organizational models have been used to create large numbers of small, incremental innovations. Open innovation is in its relative infancy but early results indicate it may have the greatest potential of all.