Open innovation may just make all the difference to innovation practices

Why innovation is best disseminated through an organization


Open innovation is currently at the forefront of strategy within the business world. The act of disseminating innovation practices throughout a company and opening it up to other organizations has been hailed as a breakout method, a marked move away from the traditional "innovation team" focus, where, in theory, creative, innovative thought tumbles from one specific department to others.

So, why is open innovation being hailed as the holy grail for business? We spoke with Jacqueline Linke, manager of innovation and strategy of Sydney Trains, about open innovation developments ahead of her presentation at Innovation Enterprise’s Chief Innovation Officer Summit, set to take place in Singapore on July 11 & 12, 2018.

Human capital as the ultimate innovation driver

"Innovation is ultimately best disseminated through an organization, leveraging the richness of the diverse thinking and insights from everywhere," says Linke. When it comes to innovation, human capital is crucial in allowing organizations to take an honest look at where they are and where they are going. "An organization that curiously explores what they do and captures the data, shares the knowledge, tries something new and learns from it, invites everyone to be a part of it, and listens, will ultimately achieve better innovations and better outcomes for people," Linke notes. "Organizations that engage and involve everyone from the frontline up not only breakdown the barriers of the hierarchies but give people an opportunity to be heard.”

Hear Jacqueline Linke speak at Innovation Enterprise’s Chief Innovation Officer Summit in Singapore, July 11 & 12, 2018.

Listening to employees is critical to understanding where openings ripe for innovation lie, as only those with a deep understanding of the company will be able to holistically put innovation into practice. "Insights often come from the knowledge of workers who are out there doing the job, seeing what is happening, and noticing problems and opportunities," agrees Linke. "This feeds the value people bring to an organization and that is one of our greatest drivers for engagement, feeling that they are making a difference and adding value to the world. It becomes self-generating and being involved helps people feel heard and valued, triggering more possibilities of ground-breaking solutions with better outcomes. This reflects the value of an organization and brings a sense of being a part of something."

When innovating is a group effort, everyone in the business engages, and with McKinsey research suggesting that as much as 70% of new strategies fail to achieve the desired results, involving the whole company in execution of new ideas is key. "Anyone can come up with an idea," says Linke, "but innovation requires a team effort."

Can anyone be an innovator?

While human capital is the key for disseminating innovation throughout an organization sustainably, there is a danger that, when tasked with the concept of innovation, it may feel like an overwhelming task for employees not traditionally expected to employ this creative mindset. So what can be done to encourage innovative, creative thought from all employees?

"Absolutely anyone can be an innovator and innovation can come from anywhere" argues Linke. "For a large organization to really succeed it is important to tap into the existing wisdom and expertise of the workers and mobilize their collective potential. Innovation comes from a mindset, a curiosity, a passion, a creativity, a belief, an imagination and an ability to draw together disparate pieces of information and find patterns, resemblances, correlations, connections and associations, and make meaning of them. These are the qualities to encourage at all levels, as well as allowing people the space to think differently and allowing them to unlock their creative thinking and realize their potential. And it is of immense value to the individuals as well as the organization – it is kind of like an insurance policy for their own career as well as the organization’s future.

"My approach is to ignite the collective potential of the people and spur innovation into every corner of the organization. Ultimately everyone can contribute to driving innovation with an open invitation to participate and to be a part of creating the future."

Visit Innovation Enterprise’s Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, October 3 & 4, 2018.

Outsourcing innovation

Involving external agencies in the innovation process is a practice that is hotly debated in the industry, with many concerned about intellectual property (IP) theft and cultural mismatch.

"Involving external research practitioners, vendors, partners and specialist industry experts is often necessary, and beneficial for a viable outcome, offering additional resources, perspectives and expertise. Outsourcing works best in a co-creation model drawing on both internal and external knowledge. It can also be really beneficial to outsource specific needs to specialist companies as they are likely to have more exposure to multiple streams of innovation and different industries, allowing access to a balance of exploration of new opportunities and exploitation of existing ways of doing things.

Not only are they adding value to in house ideas and research, they are also more likely to have the ability to move things faster to implementation unencumbered from internal processes. It is valuable to partner with the best internal minds, leveraging the wisdom and experience of the knowledge workers who have a deep understanding and insight into the business, and the best understanding of the application of developments. Investing in the smarts of your own people to build the future of the organization, becomes self-generating. While innovative practices can be sourced externally or injected from an external partner, the goal is to seed innovation internally."

The limitations of open innovation

While open innovation is proving a popular trend, it comes with limitations that a centralized innovation team can circumvent. "Bureaucracy can stifle creativity and momentum because it slows people down" points out Linke. "Having a centralized team that is removed from the same level of governance or bureaucracy can be liberating because it enables agility. Agility is one of the biggest challenges in large organizations."

However, dissemination does not have to mean agility is lost. "There is much that can be done within the core of a large organization without having to drive approvals up the line," says Linke, arguing that it's important to encourage "people to solve problems in their business as usual by looking at things differently, whether that's micro changes or a pioneering transformational change”.

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all practice for innovation, and it is a process that is unique to every company. The benefits of open innovation are obvious: A more diverse set of ideas propelling change and empowerment being filtered down to employees, encouraging teamwork. As Linke makes clear, however, the most important factor in innovating effectively is a workforce that are open-minded, enthusiastic and unafraid of taking risks to push the company forward.

Jacqueline Linke has many years of experience as an Executive coach and Innovation Facilitator consulting in the public and private sectors throughout the Asia Pacific region. She has worked as an innovator of operationally efficient solutions for National and State government organizations as well as major companies including law firms, major hospitals and health companies, banks and retail. Her previous position at Transport for NSW was as a Leadership Facilitator and Coach, providing specialist facilitation and coaching services to drive improved leaderships skills focussing on delivering results for the customer. Her responsibilities lay in the delivery of cross cluster values based leadership programs designed to build skills in the areas of leadership, change, innovation, organizational design, and diversity & inclusion. She provided targeted coaching support to line managers at a range of levels, from frontline to General Managers. 

Her skills and experience lie in all aspects of soft skills behavioral training; leadership, innovation, customer service, client relationships, communication skills, public speaking, story-telling, executive presence, presentation, negotiation and influencing skills. Jacqueline’s approach is to bring together the art (observation, simulations, and practice for skills transference) and science (theories and well-researched data) to enhance and build people, energized by enabling others to make positive behavioral changes leading to doing things differently and better in their lives and workplace. Jacqueline is currently embedding a culture of innovation and mobilizing the collective potential of Sydney Trains. "Putting Innovation on Rails". She works on the basis that people and culture are the core of successful innovation and is passionate about empowering the people of transport.

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