open innovation


Somewhere in this country whose name is irrelevant, a group of seven people are sitting at a round table. They are professionals with varying degrees of responsibility in cooperatives and companies that directly or indirectly belong to the healthcare sector, produce or provide services in this field. They have been called by a specialized cluster that knows the market and sees a great potential of collaboration to innovate. After a thorough investigation, they see a business opportunity in the public health field that involves managing projects and initiatives for open innovation. The cluster wants to provide the space and atmosphere for the collaboration to arise.

The purpose of the meeting is to visualize new possible business models to meet the growing health needs presented by an aging society – with the consequences that this implies – but whose life expectancy is getting longer. Dependent or semi-dependent elderly people who need vigilance, attention, care and countless more benefits. A niche to fill. But a complex one that requires collaboration and partnership, which requires a mindset for open innovation.

Six men and a woman intensely debating and exposing their different perspectives on what, how, when and at what price can be reached this market. They are experts and expose their knowledge. For an outside observer, it is a rich conversation that generates a big volume of information, very valuable and from almost every perspective. One can make a quick and very successful composition of what is going on.

But those involved (or a good part of them) are locked in their own ideas and it is hard for them to see the other’s perspective. For them, perhaps, the debate has been tense, but not very productive; not enriching.

For those who have called them, it is useful to detect resistances, where they are, who leads them, the reasons and the possible ways to soften and unmount them. They are also satisfied to some extent because they have confirmed some of the main barriers that any open innovation at a company process has to face. And many of those barriers are human.

Although the specialized research and literature have addressed every detail of open innovation, the human factor has not aroused much interest. And open innovation is a human activity. It is not possible without the people or the right attitude from them.

The profile of the social juggler

People who innovate beyond the boundaries of their organization should not only manage themselves, but also work with other entities and keep control of their own project. Therefore, they need a wide range of skills and competences..

Cooperation is crucial for open innovation. Employees must demonstrate certain open-mindedness and predisposition for sociability. They will have to establish contacts easily and build a network. First, in order to acquire new ideas or concepts, learn different things and broaden their horizons. They must also be able to inspire and gain the trust of its partners. Consequently, they will have to share information, which very often it is a delicate matter.

They are able to interexchange in their teams: inside their own organization and beyond its limits. In this way, they avoid the syndrome “it was not invented here”: a negative attitude towards everything that comes from outside the company. They are also skilled when it comes to understanding others and show a flexible attitude, a genuine desire to achieve a situation where everybody wins.

Control and coordination are other skills required by open innovation. Professionals who are oriented towards innovation have to reach agreements and implement them in the company. They show self-confidence to communicate and lead. They live naturally in the chaos and uncertainty -in closed innovation as well, on the other hand- and they take into account alternative scenarios easily.

The vast amount of information generated during an open innovation project is not a difficulty for them. The juggler of open innovation has communication skills to handle it, transmit it clearly, understand and interpret it well and have an open mind and be very curious about the process.

It is obvious that finding a versatile profile (the one of a social juggler) is not easy, so companies should provide adequate training.

First of all, companies must ensure that employees understand what open innovation is and are aware of the benefits that it brings.

If there is no explicit cooperation beyond the boundaries of the company, this will not happen spontaneously. In the end, it is about creating a different internal culture, something that cannot be achieved in the overnight. Open innovation involves opening the doors of your home to other cultures, procedures and methodologies, and all sorts of cultural barriers will emerge and will have to be overcomed. This will only be possible with the perseverance and commitment of whoever is ahead.

Some Belgian researchers from the Vlerick Business School, use a metaphor to refer to the human factor in open innovation, and almost all managers understand this metaphor very well:

“As an organization, your human resources policy should be like a football club from the premiere division (Champions League) which provides players to other teams, let them gain experience for a couple of years to bring them back later”

Is your company ready to play in that league?

* Note: In order to get you started on the opportunities of the healthcare sector in H-Enea we offer an interesting resource: the result of a challenge that IDEO launched through its platform called Open IDEO to get ideas about how to maintain the welfare and development as we age. It’s a good inspiration source!