Updated: May 6, 2020
Written by: Annie Lindmark, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Black swan events, events that are extraordinary and unexpected at the point in time they occur, such as economic recessions or pandemics, often change large parts of societies, economies and businesses, altering the course of history. With Covid-19, we are already seeing shifts in how people, consumers and businesses behave throughout almost every sector, and we can expect it in one way or another to change all parts of our lives going forward.
Some of the changes are direct and short term and will probably reverse once the crisis is over. However, some of the changes will persist and create a long-term disruption that will shape our lives and businesses for decades to come. These conditions imply an urgent need for new solutions.
During the last couple of weeks there have been many, if not hundreds, innovation challenges, competitions and hackathons published online in order to find those new solutions. All around the world organizations and governments are asking the public to help come up with new ideas of how we can meet the many effects that the crisis have and will have on our lives, communities and businesses. The popularity of methods like innovation competitions and challenges is often increasing in times of trouble and as governments and organizations are seeking novel ways to solve problems and create value. Innovation challenges are based on a very simple idea. The organizer identifies a problem, announce the challenge and offer a reward to the one who finds the best solution.
Open innovation can be seen as an umbrella word for these types of innovation methods and is often described as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.” (Henry Chesbrough, 2003). Basically open innovation is based on the belief that knowledgeable and creative individuals outside your organization can contribute towards strategic goals and help you find new ways to achieve them.
The use of open innovation and innovation competitions in order to innovate, is nothing new. As far back as 1714, the British government offered a prize for the person who could come up with the accurate measurement of longitude. And throughout history, innovation competition has spurred people around the world to go together and solve complex problems, often under time pressure.
Today, many multiple large companies like LEGO and NOKIA, and organizations like NASA, are continuously using innovation competitions as part of their business strategy and model. It can therefore be seen as a proven method to support and accelerate change in the world. What makes this method so powerful and important then?
First, it is a good way to accelerate the development towards ambitious goals and highlight a topic by giving many people a reason to prioritize solving the challenge. Since these methods often imply time constraints as well as a clear purpose, it is an effective way to produce useful results and market ready products quickly.
Secondly, it is about talents and skills. As Bill Joy once said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”, and by using methods like innovation challenges you can access talent that you otherwise would not, and have them address your specific challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly according to me, it is about getting better innovations through the power of diversity. New perspectives give new ideas; therefore, diversity is one of the main reasons why innovation competitions are so great and important. Especially in times of a crisis where new ideas are crucial, we don’t have time to miss out on good ideas and new perspectives. Diversity and inclusion are essential to challenge us to look at problems differently and consider a wider range of solutions and impacts that we might not otherwise have seen.
So how to best apply open innovation in your organization or context? Here are four things you should consider before getting started:
Set a purpose and goals that can be measured Start off by asking yourself what the purpose and problem are that you want help solving. Is it company specific, sector specific or even larger? And can it be accelerated and developed through a competition? Continue then to set the main objectives for the activity, that will decide both your target group and desired outcomes for the challenges. Is your goal to get lots of new ideas and get the conversation going or is it to get actual new prototypes and products in place that can be launched tomorrow? Then find a way to measure and assess if the goal has been achieved after the activity.
Collaboration is key Open innovation methods is about opening up and looking beyond your regular ways of doing things. Therefore, setting up an innovation challenge together with others could be a good idea. Look for other actors who would be willing to support, or that have similar challenges and want to team up. Uniting several organizations behind the initiative, helps spreading the word, organising the activity and taking the winning solutions forward after the competition.
Communicate and get others engaged Effective communication is key to inspire people to join your initiative. Communicate clearly why people should contribute their time, energy and ideas to tackle the challenge you present. Think through how to motivate innovators to participate. For example, you may have a strong purpose and possibility for great impact to emphasizes, or an attractive reward such as a prize or publicity.
Give feedback and take ideas further Last but not least, make sure you have the possibility to give feedback to the ideas you receive. Feedback is a crucial element of any innovation challenge. Participants should feel that they are being heard, that their time matters and that their contributions are appreciated and could have an impact. Make sure to set a plan for what the next steps should be after the challenge is over and the winners have been selected.
Annie Lindmark, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Annie Lindmark is working with innovation and funding of innovative projects within companies and research. She has received the title “Innovator of the year” at Universum Excellence Award and is often a keynote speaker and a panelist on topics as Open innovation, Social innovation, Emerging technologies and Entrepreneurship. She is a Steering Committee Member for Hack for Sweden; a government mission raised to increase the awareness and use of open data. She is also the founder of the female network W.Empowerment that aims to promote self-leadership and entrepreneurship and she supports many other initiatives that aims to encourage more women in to entrepreneurship.