I have long argued that companies should look more at the people side of innovation rather than concentrating all their efforts on processes and concepts. The necessity of building trust as a basis for successful open innovation makes this even more relevant, and it also brings more power to the people who really drive innovation within a company.

Why? Trust is first and foremost established between people and then perhaps between organizations. Trust is a personal thing, and the innovation leaders who understand this are suddenly in a much better position with regards to making things happen and creating an interesting and challenging career.

What are the barriers against building trust and relationships with stakeholders in your eco-system?

  • Most organizational structures foster an internal rather than an external perspective.
  • Most companies view external partners as someone paid to deliver a specific service rather than a source of co-creation and open innovation.
  • Most companies are more focused on protecting their own knowledge and intellectual property rather than opening up and exploring new opportunities. They play defense rather than offense.
  • Forging strong relationships takes time and personal commitment. We are just too busy to make it happen and it does not help that most companies do not provide the necessary time, resources, and encouragement to make this happen.

What should you do?

The most difficult situation faced by most innovation leaders working with open innovation is that they are alone. This is a new way of doing things, and it will develop many corporate antibodies, who just want things to stay as they have always been.

You really need to start a small revolution from the beginning. Doing this all by yourself is an over-whelming task, which is why you need to start recruiting other people having the mindset – or capable of getting the mindset – that sees the opportunities. You need to find these people, and you need to develop the right arguments to win the doubters over to your side. This involves three organizational approaches that I sum up as TBX:

  • T (Top Down) – Get executives on board and require their personal commitment to the innovation activities. Without executive support, no change occurs.
  • B (Bottom Up) – Value creation begins with people—one by one, team by team. Nothing happens unless you get employees engaged, involved, and trusting that their voices are being heard by those higher in the organization. If ideas just seem to fall into a sinkhole, never to re-emerge, or if leaders are not able to commit resources to any ideas, you will lose the trust of the employees.
  • X (Across) – The biggest challenges will come from the middle managers placed across the organization, because they have a narrow focus on their own profit-and-loss responsibility. They do not see the full picture, and thus will not give up resources when doing so does not benefit them in the short run, even though it is the right thing for the company in the long run. If not dealt with appropriately and effectively, they can bring innovation to a grinding halt, which will destroy the trust of both executives and those doing the actual work of innovation.

As we move towards open innovation, we should consider adding another factor: O (Outsiders). External partners will bring knowledge, skills, experience – and demands – to your organization.

When you have recruited enough people with a proper mindset, then you have laid the foundation for trust, which in turn makes everyone accept that strong relationships are the key to business success in the future. Now you are ready for open innovation.

About the author

Stefan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation. He facilitates peer-to-peer network groups for corporate innovation directors and managers and he is the founder and facilitator of the 15inno by Stefan Lindegaard group on LinkedIn, which counts more than 1100 global corporate innovation leaders and many others interested in innovation. Stefan Lindegaard believes open innovation requires a global perspective and he has given talks and worked with companies on open innovation in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. His blog is a globally recognized destination on open innovation.