December 31, 2011

What we know about inbound open innovation

Even by my standards, 2011 was a well-travelled year as I flew to conferences in Pittsburgh, Vienna, Johannesburg, San Antonio, Augsburg and San Francisco. (Trips to San Francisco and Berkeley wouldn’t normally be road trips, except that this summer I moved to a new job at KGI in Southern California.)

In some of these cases, I was talking about solar energy, but most of the talks were about innovation openness. In Johannesburg, San Antonio and my visit to Berkeley’s Open Innovation Speaker Series, I was talking about “strategic openness,” my new work on how firms use selective openness to gain competitive advantage; more on this another time. At Stanford in March, I presented an updated version of the open innovation ecosystem paper I’m working on with David Wood.

However, of greatest interest to readers of this blog is the paper I presented in Pittsburgh (at Industry Studies), Vienna (at OUI 2011) and near San Francisco (at MCPC 2011) summarizing the research Marcel Bogers and I have done on inbound open innovation. (Marcel also presented our paper at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit├Ąt in Munich.)

At MCPC, Frank Piller and Henry Chesbrough kindly gave me the opening slot on the research program, so I had a full half hour to talk about what we have learned over the past two years. The talk was very well received — perhaps because people were being polite, or perhaps because (like a business school professor) I roamed the hall to make sure people didn’t fall asleep. However, I’d like to think that it also provided a good overview for the academic (and industry) attendees of what we do and don’t know about open innovation.

The paper reviewed some 280 publications on open innovation published from 2003-2010. We found that researchers seemed to be more interested in how firms find external sources of innovation than what they do with them later (or whether these external innovations actually benefit the firm).

Among the few papers that we found that focused on the bottom line were those by Bruno Cassiman and Dries Fames (who also participated in an OI panel discussion during Academy in San Antonio.) I certainly don’t want to suggest that this is the only worthwhile topic for OI research going forward, if for no other reason than it’s not one where I’m likely to do the empirics. However, it does point to the need for researchers to step back and think about when (or how or if) the recent OI fad is actually helping firms be more successful.

The slides from MCPC are up on SlideShare, and a slightly older version of the paper (what we presented at OUI) is on SSRN. We hope to post a newer version of the paper next year (but not tomorrow).

MCPC photo courtesy Bruce Cook Photography.

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