May 11, 2012

Open innovation is not open distributed innovation

As noted, I’ve been reading a lot of “open innovation” papers recently, in service to a greater good.

In addition to the definition of “innovation,” another area of conceptual fuzziness (if not obfuscation) has been treating “open innovation” and “user innovation” (or “open, distributed innovation”) as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. Eric von Hippel has said so, and I think I know Henry Chesbrough well enough to say he would say so as well.

I personally am proud of having a foot in both camps, having tried for the past five years to both link and draw nuances between these literatures. I joined the OI world at the seminal AOM 2004 workshop on open innovation when I met Wim Vanhaverbeke and re-met Henry. (The rest, as they say, is history.)

In 2008, I was fortunate to attend my first user innovation workshops. Over the next three years, I got to know the UI community and Eric von Hippel.

While I’ve published two papers so far about open and user innovation, I think Linus Dahlander is today perhaps the best example of someone who has published significant work in both camps — including 170+ cites for his Research Policy paper two years ago (with David Gann).

I was honored when Dahlander and Gann mentioned my own small part (thus far) in linking these two worlds, first at OUI 2009 and then in their RP paper:
In all, 244 scholars have worked on 150 papers. This figure illustrates that the community is relatively fragmented with a few scholars that have collaborated with several others. There are few bridges connecting teams of researchers with the exception of West/Lakhani, who have connected open innovation researchers with scholars investigating user aspects of open innovation. (Dahlander and Gann, 2010: 702).
I think Dahlander and Gann have done the best job thus far of stepping back and seeing the similarities between the these two streams without blurring the differences. At the same time, my earlier work (in less influential journals) makes explicit the differences between the two.

Marcel Bogers and I have also been working on this perspective for a few years, in a paper we posted to SSRN and will be presenting in London. After publication of Dahlander and Gann, we have a higher bar to clear.


Bogers, Marcel and Joel West, “Managing Distributed Innovation: Strategic Utilization of Open and User Innovation,” Creativity and Innovation Management, 21, 1 (March 2012): 61–75. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8691.2011.00622.x

Dahlander, Linus, & Gann, David M. "How open is innovation?” Research Policy, 39, 6 (July 2010): 699-709. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2010.01.013

West, Joel. “Policy Challenges of Open, Cumulative, and User Innovation,” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 30 (2009): 17-41.

West, Joel and Bogers, Marcel, "Profiting from External Innovation: A Review of Research on Open Innovation," (September 13, 2011).

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