December 6, 2014

The Final Day of WOIC 2014

Friday brought the second and final day of the World Open Innovation Conference in Napa. To me, the day seemed every bit as successful as the first — but perhaps that was just being able (as were other organizers) to unwind at the end of the day. By the end of the day, I was slightly dazed and confused, trying to juggle various hats: organizer, plenary presenter, tweeter (in a futile attempt to out-do Piller and Bogers), blogger and photographer.

To the latter point, my conference pictures are finally posted to Google’s Picasa. I wasted nearly an hour trying to get the (original and latest) client app to work — it’s not clear if it failed due to bugs in the software or in the user design. I finally gave up and created an album of some 90 photos using the web client.

Nonaka’s Rare Appearance
We were thrilled to be joined by Ikujiro Nonaka (author of the seminal knowledge creation research), and his willingness to attend both days of the conference. Given his age (79) and health, we were uncertain to the last minute whether or not he could make it.

Not surprisingly, he quoted Drucker and other work — in addition to his own 2011 HBR article — on the importance of knowledge for the success of modern firms. He also provided numerous examples of Japanese (and one Chinese) companies that empowered workers to enable their creativity and knowledge creation abilities.

Perhaps his most quoted example (at least on Friday) was the waigaya (open dialog) offsite process used by Honda. It required a “good location, good hotel, good food and good spa.” It seems to be a common team-building formula — except that (beyond Finland) the spa/sauna element is rarely used.

Showcase Presenters
Three papers were singled out by the program committee for special visibility due to the quality of their initial submission. (Some papers got much better when the final paper was submitted, but these papers had the most polished abstracts at the original deadline).

WIth “The Architecture of Evaluation Processes in Open Innovation Settings,” Christoph Hienerth discussed the difficulty of firms using crowds to evaluate the quality of inbound innovations. In particular, he outlined the tradeoffs between two forms of evaluation:
  • Validity by expertise: the feedback must come from those with specific skills
  • Validity by numbers: no skill is required, so the more feedback the better
Nicolette Lakemond presented “The Role of Knowledge Governance in Open Innovation,” by which firms must set different approaches to govern knowledge flows in support of their OI strategies. They identify two forms of governance — authority and consensus — and measure the impact of such efforts on innovation by manufacturing firms in Sweden, Finland and Italy.

The final showcase paper was presented by Jonathan Sims. Entitled “Inbound, Outbound and Coupled Open Innovation Practices in a Community Setting,” he examined the (non pecuniary) inbound and outbound flows by (mostly) small firms who are member of the Drupal open source community. He got the best laugh of the session with his slide labelled “Obligatory Strategy 2x2”.

Jonathan Sims with his obligatory 2x2
NASA Session is Out of this World
An unexpected surprise for attendees was the session on open innovation strategies at NASA. While only one of the projects was of cosmic significance — the intergalactic insights of the Spitzer space telescope — the session provided an in-depth understand of what happens at NASA (beyond the tournaments studied by Karim Lakhani).

Two of the presentations were qualitative studies by NYU Stern assistant professors: Hila Lifshitz-Assaf (a graduate of HBS) and Renee Rottner (a fellow UCI graduate). The third was given by Jeffrey Davis, director of the Human Health and Performance Center (formerly Space Life Science Directorate) at NASA.

Hila looked at what happened within NASA after the organization obtained ideas from its various contests. Among other things, she addressed two key gaps in the open innovation literature: a lack of research on the individual level impact on OI, and a need for research on how inbound external innovations are integrated once they’ve been discovered.

Renee Rottner explains how (boundary) shift happens.
Renee presented her study of 30 year odyssey that resulted in the 2003 launch of the Spitzer telescope. He study brings to OI the boundary spanners — something that was long overdue, but something I despaired of seeing done, given how little has been done recently. She had the best graphic of the day: showing what happens to a boundary spanning artifact (a bridge) when the boundary (a river) shifts.

Finally, Jeff explained the process by which the life science directorate at NASA recast its innovation strategies to make greater use of external knowledge. (As in many cases, the impetus was a reduction of funding). Having taken the Innocentive case under Karim, it was natural to involve Harvard in helping the directorate rework its strategies. It turns out that these efforts pioneered processes and structures that later were used to support inbound innovation activities elsewhere in NASA.

Other Events
Friday’s opening plenary ended with an the announcement by Fujitsu.: the Japanese computer company will be sponsoring a mobile TechShop trailer that will take the “maker” movement and STEM education to K-12 schools in California and the rest of the US.

Later Friday morning, Frank Piller organized brainstorming sessions where the attendees sought to address problems by three organizations: Saudi Aramco, the European Investment Bank and Natura Cosmetics (of Brazil). Given the cost of participating was just a registration for a company presenter, it seemed strange that no California companies wanted to participate — but perhaps this is related to the hubris of Silicon Valley.

Frank Piller presenting corporate problem challenges
As with Thursday, we had tremendous energy from the networking and discussions during lunch.

The Importance of Quality Feedback
Perhaps my enthusiasm at the end was because in the final two paper sessions Friday we presented two of our early stage papers (one by a co-author). As an author, I experienced first-hand the high quality of engagement and feedback from an obviously highly informed audience. Numerous people during (and afterwards) offered very helpful insights on our presentations: their investment of 20 minutes to listen to the talk and 5-10 minutes to follow up will pay us major dividends on both papers.

In principle, conference papers offer four benefits to the authors:
  • A line on the vita
  • The discipline of organizing your thoughts into a 10-15 minute presentation in oral form.
  • Signaling your interests and capabilities (usually to other academics, sometimes to the real world)
  • Getting feedback on your ideas
From 20 years of academic presentations, feedback seems to be a matter of fit between the audience and the author — both quantity (number who fit) and quality (how well they fit, and how well they know your literature).

This high quality feedback is something we saw at the 2012 London conference — which had 60 attendees (all in plenary) instead of 120. I’ve also enjoyed it at various platforms conferences over the years, because we have pretty a small niche and community. I’ve been less successful at the UOI conference, mainly because of the partial overlap between my OI work and von Hippel’s UI world; from what I’ve seen, the mainstream UI researchers get great feedback (unless their audience is in a competing session).

At the Academy, we can find this feedback at a pre-arranged presenter symposia — where both the panel and the audience are united by interest in a common topic — such as the communities and ecosystem panels at AOM this year. But it’s something I’ve rarely seen at Academy paper sessions, with their hodgepodge grouping in the name of fairness.

Frank Piller presented an amusing discussion of how open innovation has graduated from the pre-paradigmatic stage, and now needs to move on to being (in effect) Kuhnian normal science. With his permission, I am posting his slides to SlideShare.

While we await feedback (actual data) from our attendees, the general impression was that attendees really enjoyed the conference. When Henry Chesbrough asked how many plan to come back, almost every hand in the room went up. (We did have a few attendees who had to leave early).
Henry Chesbrough surveying participants on Friday afternoon.
The conference wouldn’t have happened without the work of the co-chairs — Chesbrough, Frank Piller, Chris Tucci (and yours truly). It also dependent on the staff and other resources of Chesbrough’s innovation center at Berkeley (the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation), including key staffers — Anita Stephens, Sohyeong Kim and Solomon Darwin.

I am personally confident that the next WOIC will be even more successful. Stay tuned for more details as we have them.

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