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Open Innovation: Theory on the Frontier

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Open innovation, then, should be viewed as a surging upwards or weeding process. The engineers are like a wild crop: Growing every which way, innovating in response to their own micro-conditions, etc. Management selects which crops are viable, but it does not kill those that aren't; instead, it leaves them be, hoping that they might yet grow into something useful. In open innovation and innovation time approaches, engineers are never discouraged from pursuing a project with their own time, but those projects aren't picked up unless they're clearly valuable.

This ties in with Govinadajaran's (2010) point out that innovation is mostly about execution and not about ideas. The world is full of ideas: People constantly produce them. Most of these ideas are bad, ill-conceived, incomplete or obsolete. Many more are good, but implementing them is the challenge. Everyone has an idea for a novel or a movie: Very few have the skill, time, talent, capital and execution ability to bring together the full book or the full screenplay. A very few ideas are so good, like the laws of relativity or universal gravitation, that they are themselves highly elegant and need little implementation, but these ideas are few and far between: Even transcendent geniuses like Newton and Einstein spent decades producing ideas of far less merit or doing research before coming up with the elegant, intrinsically valuable idea.

Execution is the hard part, and open innovation has the risk where everyone comes up with ideas and no one has the time, wherewithal or interest to make them viable. Trimble (2010) points out that, if taken literally, 20% time applied to the workforce in a company where 60% of overhead is labor costs means that “ twelve points” of the company’ s assets are being potentially frittered away!

“ Even if you cut it down by extending the 20 percent policy only to a subset of employees, those are huge numbers. .. The hidden risk in the 20 percent policy is that you end up generating a mountain of great ideas on paper that never become anything more than a mountain of great ideas on paper” (Trimble, 2010).

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