These fifteen brainstorming prompts will help you and your team solve problems together.
By:

In their new book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, authors William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre offer some fascinating perspectives and case histories on the topic of open-source innovation.

In their new book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, authors William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre offer some fascinating perspectives and case histories on the topic of open-source innovation.

What is open-source innovation?  Its central idea is that companies will succeed at innovation in the 21st century by attracting ideas from the brightest minds anywhere, not just within the organization’s four walls. Open-source software, where thousands of programmers collaborate to write software that is arguably better than any one company could have developed on its own, is a great example of it in action. The most notable example of this, of course, is the Linux operating system, which the authors do touch upon. But they also provide detailed reviews of:

  • GoldCorp Inc.’s remarkably successful open-source approach to mining exploration,
  • Second Curve’s participative approach to improving the business of banking,
  • Proctor & Gamble’s technology scouts, who are seeking innovations throughout the world, and
  • Eli Lilly’s InnoCentive “virtual R&D lab,” which creates an online environment where the world’s best scientists can review and submit solutions to specific R&D challenges.

Taylor and LaBarre do a great job of illuminating both the challenges and successes that each of these initiatives have gone through. But most of all, they make a convincing case for making open source a part of your company’s innovation strategy.

“The open-source movement clearly demonstrates that the more smart people you can persuade to work on a problem, the more likely it is to get solved… Sustainable innovation is no longer just about who has the most gifted scientists or the best equipped labs.  It’s about who has the most compelling ‘ architecture of participation.’ In a world reshaped by massively networked innovation, the strategic challenge is to design products that ‘ gets smarter and more people use them’ and to design companies with which smart people want to interact. Ultimately… the companies that are most likely to dominate their businesses are the ones most adept at harnessing the collective intelligence of everyone with whom they do business.”

“The world is teeming with smart, skilled, passionate people who are eager to demonstrate how much they know and how good they are — people who just might contribute anything from a killer idea to a whole collection of small innovations that will set you apart from the competition. These people don’t have to work for you in order to work with you. But you do have to invite them into your organization and persuade them to give you their best efforts.”

Not surprisingly, open-source innovation demands an uncommon level of openness in leadership and management (“Invite outsiders to review our R&D challenges? Are you crazy?”). But Taylor and LaBarre clearly demonstrate that the payoff for increased openness is potentially huge. Chances are, the scientific and engineering challenges your R&D team faces have been solved by someone, somewhere.  If you can find that solution and quickly adapt it to your needs, you can short-circuit the traditional product development cycle and bring new products and services to market faster — and create an enviable competitive edge in the process. The authors do not tout open-source innovation as a replacement for traditional R&D, by the way. But it does look like a powerful complement to it.

This book is must reading for any student of business innovation!

Listen to this podcast to find out what roles curiosity and humility play in innovation.