A small number of “idea scouts” and “idea connectors” are disproportionately influential in producing successful open innovation outcomes. Smart companies make sure they are linked.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cisco Systems, Genzyme, General Electric and Intel are often credited with having attained market leadership through open innovation strategies. By tapping into and exploiting the technological knowledge that resided beyond their own R&D structures, these companies outmaneuvered rivals. But while other organizations try to follow their example, this research shows that many are failing because they neglect to ensure that the outside ideas reach the people best equipped to exploit them.
R&D leaders need to think not only about combing the outside world for new and potentially applicable ideas but also about how to ensure that those ideas receive serious consideration. By understanding the roles of two types of innovation brokers – “idea scouts” and “idea connectors” – in the open innovation process, and by utilizing their talents effectively, managers can preside over major improvements in the conversion of external knowledge into successful outcomes.
The authors provide numerous examples, pointing out that success at open innovation depends on the presence of both types of innovation brokers. But despite these innovation brokers’ importance to the organization, the people who wound up as idea scouts and connectors often came as a complete surprise to management. Innovation is too important to be left to chance, however. If innovation brokers do not exist, management is obliged to “invent” them – i.e., recruit the right people to perform these valuable roles.