To Be More Open, Companies Need to Let Go

By Michelle L. Grainger

How can be “letting go” lead to more open innovation?

The way author and business professor Terri Griffith sees it, managers who want to be strategic about open innovation need to let go of practices that might have worked in the 20th century but are outmoded in the faster-paced, more collaborative, technology-reliant 21st century.

Terri will be our keynote speaker at the CIMS 2015 Conference, whose theme is “Open Innovation—Revisited.” The Conference will be held Oct. 26-27 at the Frontier in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and is open to the public. Her talk—“Leading by Letting Go: Are 20th Century Constraints Holding Open Innovation Back?”—will include case studies from companies that have put this advice into practice.

Dr. Terri Griffith

Dr. Terri Griffith

Terri is the Associate Dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and an expert on the importance of balancing the three dimensions of any workplace: technical, human and organizational. Her 2011 book, “The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive,” introduced the concept of managers who consistently consider how the human, technical, and organizational dimensions work in concert in order to help their companies succeed. Plugged-in managers, according to Terri’s construct, are known for three practices: stop-look-listen, mixing/negotiating change, and sharing. All of these can all be applied in the practice of open innovation, she notes.

“As we think about what to be open about, these three dimensions suggest options about what and how to practice open innovation,” she says. “I can have open innovation that affects process and/or product. I can have inputs and outflows of my innovation funnel in the form of people, technology, or practice.”

From her research, Terri knows that too many executives and managers have mindsets that keep them from embracing open innovation. Instead of looking outside for ideas or technologies, they focus exclusively on internal R&D. Instead of selling or licensing a product or technology that they can’t turn into a viable product, they jealously guard it. These are practices developed in the 20th century that may no longer be viable in today’s open-source environment, she notes. Becoming more aware of market trends and upping the pace at which they operate are two things managers can do to elevate their 21st-century business practices, Terri says.

“With everything you do, think open,” is Terri’s advice to businesses. “Instead of sending an email to just one or two people, for instance, try sharing it through a collaborative tool that involves the whole group. You don’t want to let go of everything, you want something a little more directed that lets you hold tight to your particular organization’s ‘physics,” she says. “But the key is to be looking with a very critical eye at the mechanical processes” involved in getting a product to market.

Engaging all three of the key dimensions of a business will go a long way toward positioning companies to be more successful with open innovation. “You need to look at all your resources: the human; the technological—the tools you use and the things you produce — and your organizational practices,” Terri says.

She cites the example of several coal mines she’s studied. “Coal mines aren’t places you’d typically look at for innovation, but several I’ve looked at are doing things like open-sourcing and even enlisting the public’s help for advice on where to look for whatever mineral they’re mining, offering prizes to the winners. They know that there are very smart people around who like to engage in contests. They find on-line tools that let them create and manage the contest entries. They open up their practices to involve people besides their employees.” Now that’s open innovation managed through all three dimensions – literally with gold at the end of the rainbow.

Want to learn how you, too, can let go and plug-in to be more successful at open innovation? Register for the CIMS Conference today so you don’t miss out on Terri’s keynote.


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