To reap the benefits of open innovation, managers must understand what to open, how to open it and how to manage the resulting problems.
As innovation becomes more democratic, many of the best ideas for new products and services no longer originate in well-financed corporate and government laboratories. Instead, they come from almost anywhere and anyone.1 How can companies tap into this distributed knowledge and these diverse skills? Increasingly, organizations are considering using an open-innovation process, but many are finding that making open innovation work can be more complicated than it looks. PepsiCo, the food and beverage giant, for example, created controversy in 2011 when an open-sourced entry into its Super Bowl ad contest that was posted online featured Doritos tortilla chips being used in place of sacramental wafers during Holy Communion. Similarly, Kraft Foods Australia ran into challenges when it launched a new Vegemite-based cheese snack in conjunction with a public naming contest. The name Kraft initially chose from the submissions, iSnack 2.0, encountered widespread ridicule, and Kraft abandoned it. (The company instead asked consumers to choose among six other names. The company ultimately picked the most popular choice among those six, Vegemite Cheesybite.)
Reports of such problems have fed uncertainty among managers about how and when to open their innovation processes. Managers tell us that they need a means of categorizing different types of open innovation and a list of key success factors and common problems for each type. Over the last decade, we have worked to create such a guide by studying and researching the emergence of open-innovation systems in numerous sectors of the economy, by working closely with many organizations that have launched open-innovation programs and by running our own experiments.2 This research has allowed us to gain a unique perspective on the opportunities and problems of implementing open-innovation programs. (See “About the Research.”) In every organization and industry, executives were faced with the same decisions. Specifically, they had to determine (1) whether to open the idea-generation process; (2) whether to open the idea-selection process; or (3) whether to open both. These choices led to a number of managerial challenges, and the practices the companies implemented were a major factor in whether the innovation efforts succeeded or failed.