The world if filled with incredibly smart people. If you can locate them and convince them to partner with you, they can help to drive your open innovation efforts forward. Stefan Lindegaard shares several strategies for making that happen.

Linkedin, the popular professional networking website, isn’t just a useful job search and professional networking tool. It’s also an essential resource for locating potential open innovation partners, says innovation thought leader Stefan Lindegaard.

Speaking at the recent CoDev & Open Innovation conference, Lindegaard conducted an informal poll to see how many of the conference attendees had Linkedin profiles. Most of the hands in the room went up. Lindegaard pointed out that Linkedin has reached critical mass, because so many business professionals are now listed there. That makes it a powerful tool for finding the specialized people and knowledge we need to drive our open innovation initiatives forward.

This type of resource was almost unimaginable a decade ago, but today we practically take it for granted. The fact is that Linkedin is an incredibly valuable worldwide database of subject matter experts – potential partners for your open innovation initiatives.

Lindegaard used an example to highlight the importance of finding and partnering with smart people outside of your organization’s walls. Using P&G as an example, he walked the audience through a simple exercise: Assume, for a moment, that for every one person withing P&G who has some very specialized expertise, that there are perhaps 200 people with similar expertise worldwide. Now multiply that by the size of P&G’s worldwide R&D staff (approximately 7,500) and you have 1.5 million people who potentially have knowledge we need to solve product and production problems, to envision new “white space” products and services, to break into new markets, and more. How could you possibly turn your back on such a compelling network of smart people, many of whom could possibly help you to achieve these goals?

That begs the question, “How can we get people to work with us?” Lindegaard shared the example of Netflix, which offered a $1 million prize for the best algorithm that would help to improve its model for distributing movies. In the process, they identified some incredibly smart people with some really promising ideas. The trick was to get them to come forward with their ideas – hence, the big monetary prize.

Even Google, which has been focused for a number of years on hiring some of the world’s best and brightest minds, has figured out that it doesn’t need to OWN all of these people – but is now working on strategies to partner and interact with them, Lindegaard pointed out.

How do you to that? By becoming a “preferred partner of choice” – a company that is so attractive that smart people bring ideas to it first. If you are serious about implementing open innovation, one of your primary goals ought to be to foster a brand for your company’s innovation efforts that helps to position it as a potential partner of choice in your industry.

Fellow CoDev speaker Gene Slowinski pointed out in an interview with me that the “throne” of preferred partner of choice is actually still vacant in many industries. This may be a big opportunity for your firm to step forward and fill that role in your industry!