The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be one of the most disastrous disease outbreaks in recent years. Having severely impacted several industry verticals, the pandemic has changed the market scenario altogether. As the customer needs and priorities are changing—makers, startup founders, entrepreneurs, and researchers are also inclining towards solving problems related to the pandemic and prepare for any in the future. Along with the challenges, the pandemic has also brought numerous opportunities and several companies and new innovators are coming together to make the most of these opportunities. Companies are putting the ability to create value before the opportunity to make a buck and encouraging innovation during coronavirus.
This distributed, decentralized, and participatory way of innovation is also known as open innovation. Though it has proliferated over the past few months, it has massive potential regardless of the crisis. It helps organizations create value, be it through new partners with complementary skills, or by unlocking the hidden potential in long lasting-relationships. Open innovation can help organizations find new ways to solve problems and serves as a foundation for future collaborations. Companies can leverage open innovation during the pandemic as well as after the pandemic. Here’s how companies can combat the challenges in open innovation and embrace it in a better way.
Overlook the Intellectual Property Concerns
According to research, many companies are extremely concerned about intellectual property infringement from collaborations with outsiders. Thus, instead of the important business issues, they tend to collaborate on a few peripheral tasks. Moreover, due to future patenting concerns, some of these companies make it practically impossible for their open innovation partners to provide help and advice by not revealing their critical problems. As a result, oftentimes innovation partnerships slip into irrelevance.
Though these concerns are important, they risk by blocking innovations during coronavirus from gaining momentum. However, to thrive in these times, companies have to emphasize on creating value than capturing it. Smart companies take brave decisions by collaborating on important issues without risking negative exposure. For instance, several manufacturing companies are collaborating with ventilator manufacturers to help them increase their production. This collaboration doesn’t risk the core technological assets of the manufacturing companies; instead, they are contributing to a noble cause to combat the pandemic.
Motivate Internal and External Collaborators
Voluntary and active participation of employees and partners is needed for companies to successfully deploy open innovation. As the traditional means of command and control have a little reach, companies should focus on a combination of hard and soft incentives to motivate internal and external collaborators. They need to identify and respond to their partners’ true motivation. Research demonstrates multiple kinds of motivations among developers. Some developers are motivated to share their codes freely while some are driven by strong ethical concerns and oppose any move to develop software that cannot be inspected, modified, and shared. Moreover, some companies are motivated to donate time and resources as a means to access complementary skills and assets. Blending all these motivations together might seem easy in the initial stages of the collaboration viz. responding to the pandemic, however, companies should not expect the collaboration to be as smooth after the pandemic. They should put their work ahead of time to discover and make the most of their partners’ motivation.
Appreciate New Partners
Dealing with new partners is one of the major challenges of open innovation. New partners often encompass cost in terms of search, validation, and compliance, as well as forming new social relationships between people. However, new partners are necessary to provide complementary skills and perspective especially in tricky times like these. The pandemic though has mitigated these challenges in two ways. On one hand, the top management has assumed a significant risk associated with new partners, by sending strong messages that open innovation is the way to go.
While on the other hand, the pool of potential partners has grown exponentially with the spread of the pandemic. Companies that are hard hit by the crisis are looking for new ways to conduct business. The crisis has prompted companies to explore a greater number and new kinds of partners. Hence, an evenhanded attitude towards new partners after the pandemic can help companies thrive and stay on the top.
Recognize the Transformational Challenges
For open innovation before the pandemic, the initial steps were relatively simple, viz—hire some consultants, organize an innovation tournament, and wait for the ideas to come. However, despite following these steps, the results were meager. These initiatives are not sufficient for successful innovations during a pandemic. Companies need to recognize the transformational challenges ahead and should be aware of the operational and structural changes to how the business is done. Though these changes are difficult for any employee, team, or business, they are extremely important.
Many companies are utilizing the opportunity provided by the pandemic to rethink their innovation infrastructure. For instance, the education sector is setting the benchmark for the successful implementation of open innovation on a grand scale. Many of the institutions were suddenly told that they had to shift their classes to digital and much was left for individual teachers to figure out. However, the academics across the globe have been collaborating, sharing tips, tricks, teaching plans, and experiences to turn the slow-paced, uphill task into an agile digital sprinter. This shows that a strong commitment to change can overcome the biggest barriers to innovation.
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