July 30, 2014

Open Innovation at the User Innovation Conference

On Tuesday, Frank Piller of RWTH Aachen presented an overview of open innovation. He presented to attendees at the 2014 Open and User Innovation Conference — the 12th annual meeting of the user innovation workshop — which met at Harvard Business School. A track chair here at OUI, Frank is one of two members of the user innovation “tribe” (the other being Karim Lakhani) who's worked most actively in open innovation.

He noted that the 2006 Chesbrough definition of open innovation (from our 2006 book) as
”the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively“
He presented statistics and analysis on the market for open innovation intermediaries from RWTH’s 2013 study. He also alluded to the Not Invented Here problem, the subject of a forthcoming paper with David Antons (which was presented earlier on Monday).

But perhaps the most important thing for the largely UI audience was talking about the linkages between OI and UI — both similarities and differences. He summarized Table 2.1 of our chapter in New Frontiers in Open Innovation.

Our contention is that UI and OI have two major differences, First, they study overlapping (but slightly different) phenomena — so many topics at OUI 2014 (e.g. “firms and users”) would apply to both, but some topics apply only to UI (user to user sharing) and some only to OI (markets for innovation).

Second, the focal actor for these studies are different. UI always has users (usually but not always individuals), while OI is about firms (or more recently, organizations).

In talking to a non-OI scholar at dinner Tuesday night, I became convinced the latter is the most fundamental difference between the von Hippel and Chesbrough camps: EVH cares passionately about user welfare, while for the past 11 years HWC has been promulgating a paradigm about helping firms improve their performance.

In many cases, the interests of these two actors aligned, but like any cooperation such alignment is not perfect nor permanent. In other cases, they have conflicting goals, as when UI scholars seek to make user free of oligopolistic producer control (e.g. over IP) or when OI scholar try to help firms maximize the rents they can extract for their IP.

Still, there’s a lot of overlap. I think OI can learn from UI about input from consumers and other individual contributors. In fact, the focus of Piller & West (2014) is about what we call an “interactive coupled” mode of open innovation, with a focus on co-creation that takes place outside any particular firm through collaboration between firms and individuals.

At the same time, OI could potentially inform UI scholars in how firms use these external innovations, with its focus on the success of firms and (presumably) what happens inside the firm. In our JPIM article (published this month), Marcel and I showed how most OI research is about the use of external innovation. However, most such research is on finding (or acquiring) such innovations, not what happens inside the firm to the innovations once they’re acquired.

So the relations between the UI and OI camp are far better than between the US and Russia (either today or a decade ago). Perhaps a better analogy is the US and Europe, or Britain and France: we have a lot in common (particularly for the phenomenon) but our interests are not always perfectly aligned.


Frank Piller and Joel West, “Firms, Users, and Innovation: An Interactive Model of Coupled Open Innovation,” in Henry Chesbrough, Wim Vanhaverbeke and Joel West, eds., New Frontiers in Open Innovation, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp 29-49.

Joel West and Marcel Bogers, “Leveraging External Sources of Innovation: A Review of Research on Open Innovation,” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31, 4 (July 2014): 814-831. DOI: 10.1111/jpim.12125

July 26, 2014

Commentary: How much fraud is too much?

The case of Ulrich Lichtenthaler began slowly two years ago, with three papers retracted for “statistical irregularities.” Perhaps the stern reaction of Research Policy suggested there was something more serious than the official announcements implied, but many at that point still believed it was just an honest mistake.

At this point, with 19 retracted or withdrawn papers, it would be impossible to argue with a straight face that the errors were inadvertent or unintentional. Instead, we have a pattern of intentional and systematic fraud that is the most serious such case in innovation studies in the past 15 years.

When a company has repeated failures, its credibility (and viability) suffers accordingly. Companies that poison babies or have cars that kill people lose their customers rapidly, and often go out of business. Passengers are understandably skittish to fly an airline that’s lost two jumbos full of passengers in six months (even if the 2nd case was just pure bad luck). Many people forget that it took only a single plane crash to respectively drive out of business two of the most storied brands in US aviation, Pan Am (1988) and TWA (1996), even though neither airline bore the primary blame for the resulting crash.

So how many retractions would it take for people to stop citing Ulrich Lichtenthaler? Apparently more than 20, if submissions to our upcoming open innovation conference are any indication. Slightly less than 14% (1:7) of the submitted papers cite one or more Licthenthaler papers.

Three of these submissions even cite a retracted paper: two a JET-M paper retracted in June, and a third the AMJ paper retracted last December. One submission cites 7 Lichtenthaler papers, another cites 5; both cite more Lichtenthaler than Chesbrough, even though the latter has written more (and more highly cited) papers than Licthenthaler. (Google says Chesbrough has 11 OI studies that are more cited than Lichtenthaler’s most-cited OI paper).

As I've noted before, some of my friends say “I’ll never cite Lichtenthaler” while others say “As long as it’s not retracted, I’ll cite it if it makes a contribution”.

I think there’s enough evidence to deduce a pattern. We don’t need any more priors to calibrate our Bayesian probabilities. Fool me twice — let alone sixteen times — shame on me.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of any website, conference, journal, book or special issue.

July 17, 2014

User and Open Innovation Conferences 2014

This has been a busy week for me. Tuesday was the final day for submissions to December's 1st Annual World Open Innovation Conference, which meant a flurry of last minute correspondence, fighting with EasyChair, cat-herding and general administrivia. (This doesn't count several meetings at work and time spent trying to write an NSF grant application).

We were deluged with submissions, a testimony to the ongoing interest in open innovation. Maybe it was the reputations of the conference co-chairs: Henry Chesbrough, Frank Piller, Chris Tucci. Perhaps it was the opportunity to publish in the ICC special section. Or maybe it was Henry’s choice of the Napa venue. Whatever the reason, we have divy'd up our assignments and hope to notify authors of the decisions by (around) August 15.

The same day that dozens of authors were sending in their WOIC 2014 submissions, I received the final schedule for the 12 Annual Open and User Innovation (July 28-30) from its conference co-chairs (Carliss Baldwin, Karim Lakhani, Stefan Thomke, Eric von Hippel and Benjamin Mako Hill). The new format has 122 papers and posters, with 16 parallel sessions in two parallel tracks. The latter should provide the presenters a good audience for their work.

Ironically, I'll probably be doing my WOIC 2014 reviews while in a hotel room killing time between Marshall van Alstyne and Geoff Parker's Platform 2014 conference (at Boston University) and the OUI 2014 at HBS the following week.