Collaborative and Open Innovation

Via David Weinberger I found this Berkman lunch where Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School and Ned Gulley of MathWorks talked about “The Dynamics of Collaborative Innovation: Exploring the tension between knowledge novelty and reuse”.

Karim begins by looking at research by Meyer on the airplane’s hidden collaborative history: It didn’t spring whole cloth from the brow of the Wright brothers. E.g., Chanute served as a hub for pre-Wright research and innovation. The Wright brothers actively corresponded with him. Once the Wright brothers patented their inventions, innovation moved to Europe (which is why so many of our aviation terms are French … l’fusilage, anyone?).

Ned talks about the contest MathLab (where he works) runs every six months– sixteen times so far — designed to encourage the free flow of ideas. It’s a week-long open collaborative competition for MATLAB programmers. Entries are displayed, scored, and ranked immediately. Anyone can modify anyone else’s code and resubmit it as their own. The leader is determined objectively by putting it through some hidden tests that judge its efficiency. […]

Q: In the commercial realm, what happens when an early innovator patents it?
You don’t get collaborative innovation.

In the same spirit also check out Collaborative Architectures for Innovation by Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti. Here’s the abstract:

Collaborative innovation has become a hot topic in innovation today. Scholars, consultants, and the business press all urge companies seeking to boost innovative performance to become more “collaborative.” Too often, however, companies fail to distinguish among the various choices they face with respect to alternative modes of collaboration. Collaborative innovation can take a wide variety of forms, each with profound implications for innovative performance and the value a firm can capture from innovation. Building on a number of case studies, this paper presents a simple framework for categorizing different collaborative modes. The framework is based on the notion that there are two critical dimensions along which collaborative efforts can be characterized. The first dimension relates to the degree to which the collaborative network is “open” verses “closed.” The second dimension relates to the degree to which the governance structure for collaboration is “hierarchical” verses “flat.” While discussions of collaborative innovation often take the position that “open” networks are superior to “closed” networks, and that “flat” governance structures are superior to “hierarchical” structures, our framework provides a more nuanced view of the trade-offs. The choice among alternative collaborative modes should be driven by a number of factors including characteristics of the technology, the capabilities of the firm, and the distribution of competences in the environment. We develop a set of guidelines for helping firms choose among collaborative models and discuss critical enabling conditions required for each to work in practice. In the final section of the paper, we discuss how firms can “mix and match” multiple modes of collaboration into coherent “architectures” that lie at the heart of innovation strategy.

And there’s another article in The McKinsey Quarterly on open innovation (abstract here, free registration required to get it all), covering open innovation, distributed co-creation & product development 2.0. Yes, blogged about this before too, but it’s always a good thing to see McKinsey adding credibility and buzz (even when I am growing wary of the Second Life examples):

“Distributed cocreation is too new for us to draw definitive conclusions about whether and how companies should implement it. But our research into these online communities and our work with a number of open-innovation pioneers show that it isn’t too soon for senior executives to start seriously examining the possibilities for distributed cocreation or to identify the challenges, such as the ownership of intellectual property and increased operational risk, they face in adopting it.”

Well, most interesting pieces are the examples and discussion of the B2B opportunities that arise, like e.g. SugarCRM’s CRM (customer relationship management) software, which can be customized by clients, and the list of how-tos and do’s and don’ts (clear rules and roles, pay attention to the processes etc.).

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