What can you learn from strangers?

Some of the world’s most successful companies are now embracing Open Innovation, an effort to crowdsource development ideas from their customers and others – with the goal of potentially incorporating those ideas into future product lines.

Here are a few recent examples:

  • Microsoft just announced its Project Olympus to open source its hardware design.
  • Ford has awarded over $200,000 to the winners of its Innovate Mobility Challenge initiative.
  • LEGO has gamified its Ideas community resulting in multiple new products entering the market, including a Beatles Yellow Submarine kit. If an idea is commercialized, Lego gives the contributor 1% of net sales.
  • Coca-Cola has set up nine Startup Accelerators worldwide in order to tap into unique ideas on a grand scale.
  • GE has announced its Fuse program, where they invite “any and all people to help us solve the world’s most challenging engineering problems.”

All of these companies are global brands that have the resources to hire the best available talent for research and development, so why are they casting out the net for more ideas? The reason: They believe in the power of thought diversity. By bringing outside ideas and input into their design processes, they are able to gain from a wide perspective, some of which simply can not be reproduced internally where homogeneous thought can result from years of shared experience.

Deloitte recently published a study on the biopharmaceutical industry showing that while 80% of R&D comes from more close-ended processes, drugs sourced through Open Innovation efforts were three times more likely to reach the market. Deloitte also concluded that Open Innovation efforts are a “more cost- and time-effective way to bring drugs to market.”

University of California Berkeley Professor Henry Chesbrough is widely considered the “Father of Open Innovation.” He defines the concept as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation.”

At its heart, the goal of Open Innovation is to eschew old models for innovation which simply look inward towards subject expertise and instead embrace a model for innovation that incorporates a variety of viewpoints. The desired outcome is to get to more creative, more desirable solutions faster.

With so much success coming from Open Innovation, it is a wonder that more organizations are not focused on OI as a key strategy for their product pipeline. It seems the biggest risk cited by organizations validating their cautious approach to Open Innovation is the security of their intellectual property. For companies that develop products, there is no more important asset than IP. At its core, Open Innovation requires the development and sharing of IP with a potentially wide audience. 

The beauty of full-cloud Onshape is that it is the only CAD system with real-time provisioning and deprovisioning. When a design team wants to add a new employee, contractor or outside partner, that new member gets instant access to the CAD system and CAD data – on any computer, tablet or phone. Because Onshape runs in a web browser or mobile app (Android or iOS), new design team members can get started right way – there is no need to provision top-of-the-line hardware powerful enough to handle the heavy computations and graphics of CAD.

And when the project is over, companies can instantly deprovision its outside partners (or anyone) and pull back its IP. Unlike with file-based CAD, Onshape has no lingering offline copies floating around.

Veteran racecar designer Nicolas Perrin, who has worked for multiple Formula 1 teams, uses Onshape to share open-access models with a global community of collaborators and the public. The PERRINN company is no longer limited by centralized offices and restricted data access, sourcing new talent to work from any location and on any computer, tablet or phone. (You can follow his progress on developing cars for the international F1 and Le Mans 24 Hours races on PERRINN’s “We Are a Team” site.)

(Image courtesy of PERRINN)

“It’s so amazing to be able to do meaningful work with people I’ve never met,” Perrin says. “It used to be that you would never share your IP with strangers, but now I do it all the time. Onshape makes it easier to collaborate with the peace of mind that you remain in full control over who can view or edit your designs.”

Leaders in Open Innovation are weighing the risks/rewards and deciding that collaboration with a vast network provides more opportunity than the potential risk of exposing their IP. Forward-thinking organizations are also adopting new technologies that facilitate collaboration with outsiders, while still protecting their most important intellectual capital.

Onshape was built especially with this kind of Agile Product Design process in mind – and we look forward to playing an increasing role in the momentum towards Open Innovation.