1. How has the perception of open innovation changed in the last 5 years?
The perception in Novozymes has changed a great deal. It all started in 2011 when our R&D management set an open innovation initiative in motion. We realised that engaging in innovation with external communities – beyond customers, partners and academia – is important for the long-term growth of the company. The question then became: how can we as a B2B company engage with the crowds of enthusiastic makers and do-it-yourself people around the world? And why would they engage with us? This was new territory for us but we started taking our first steps with a couple of grass-root initiatives which all turned out quite positively.
We co-created first technology prototypes together with makerspaces and imported the ‘hackathon’, concept from the DIY-space into our corporate context. This was actually was a lot of fun and invigorated our innovation culture. Now, since the start of this year Novozymes has a new long-term strategy which is all about partnering for impact, reaching out to the world to create change together. Our leadership talks about ‘coalitions of the willing’ for better lives in growing world. I see this as a strong aspiration towards open innovation.
2. Many people are still worried about the risks of open innovation programmes, how do you negate these?
These worries will never go away and the risks are real – however, the more important question is: can we afford not doing open innovation? My gut feeling is that open & collaborative innovation is going to be a key competitive parameter of the 21st century. We cannot accelerate innovation without opening it up. We will also not be able to tap effectively into social needs and profound sustainability issues without using open and collaborative approaches. We will not be able to create innovation that matters without engaging with the communities and customer segments in need first – making them part of the change.
3. How should you measure the success of an open innovation programme?
One thing is measuring acceleration and cost reduction through distributed task solving – or crowd-solving. But what matters more is the question whether the outcome achieved has a substantial positive impact for the people involved as well as the environment they live in.
4. Which organisations do you think have been key to pushing open innovation and why?
There are so many inspiring examples around us but if I should point out a favourite then it would be Tesla. In the summer of 2014 Elon Musk made the entire IP portfolio of Tesla accessible to all who want to use it in good faith. From a strategy point of view Tesla’s move raises a number of questions such as, Who is the next Elon Musk? Could it be somebody in your industry? If somebody ‘pulls an Elon Musk’ on you – what is your reaction? And finally: could you be the next Elon Musk? All of these questions are around competitiveness – and I guess there could be a new strategic paradigm emerging here: open innovation increases competitive unpredictability.
5. Do you think it is better to allow open innovation to take place within an entire company or silo’d to particular departments or projects?
By its very nature open & collaborative innovation is for everybody in the enterprise. It needs to be enterprise-wide in order to maximize the benefits and positive returns. If we take that as a given we still find answers to a couple of questions: One being how can we educate all employees to make empowered and diligent decisions about which data to share freely and which to protect? The other being how can we secure enough absorptive capacity to discriminate signal from noise and how to moderate the mass of conversations which will ensue in an open environment?