APRIL 20, 2021 | Nitin Rakesh
In his seminal book, Crowds and Power, Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti writes about the “freedom and relief” that the experience of “becoming one with the crowd” provides to individuals otherwise unconnected to one another.
The “relief” he describes in the context of individuals in large groupings is not too different from what companies are experiencing now as they slowly shift their talent strategy outward toward “crowds” in search of a richer, more diverse mix of talent.
Although still in its infancy, this movement is gaining ground. Companies across sectors are finding some of the best solutions to business challenges do not lie within their own organizations or even their industries. Instead, they are to be found among people and places far removed from a company and often among people who already knew the solution to the problem.
Fostering Innovation Through Collaboration
American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly bases its open innovation on collaboration. The company’s objective is to discover molecules with the potential to become medicines and its Open Innovation Drug Discovery (OIDD) program enables outsiders to access the same tools and expertise available to its own scientists.
Researchers can use Eli Lilly’s expertise in various ways. Biologists can utilize Eli Lilly’s molecules to test their own hypotheses. In addition, they can use the company’s computational design tools to generate their own structures, submit compounds for screening in Lilly’s modules or have chemical scaffolds considered for inclusion in the pharma company’s proprietary compound collection. If Eli Lilly’s scientists find the results promising, the company invites the relevant organization to collaborate with the Lilly team. These could be short-term collaborations based on research plans, acquisitions of chemical compounds or licensing agreements.
During the pandemic, Eli Lilly leveraged its open innovation approach to talent by entering into an agreement with Vancouver-based biotech company AbCellera to co-develop antibody products for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19. The collaboration used AbCellera’s AI-powered rapid pandemic response platform and Lilly’s global capability for rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of therapeutic antibodies.
The pharma company also entered into an agreement with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to study one of their medicines as a potential treatment for hospitalized patients diagnosed with Covid-19. Additionally, Eli Lilly worked with the AI company BenevolentAI to see how its artificial intelligence capability could help assess how one of Lilly’s medicines may help treat coronavirus.
Leveraging User Ideas To Refresh Product Lines
More firms are recognizing how collaboration with external talent can meaningfully further a company’s own business objectives. The beloved toy company Lego has been an early adopter of open innovation. It marked the completion of 10 years of crowdsourcing and co-creating with its fans and consumers in 2018. Its crowdsourcing platform, Lego Ideas, invites fans’ suggestions for new Lego products, and any idea with over 10,000 votes is eligible to become a part of the company’s future portfolio.
Over the last decade, the Lego Ideas platform has grown to include more than a million members and receive about 26,000 new product ideas. Of these, about 166 got votes from 10,000-plus supporters and of these, 23 products are now part of Lego’s portfolio. These include the Lego Ideas Pop-Up Book, Lego Ideas Voltron, Lego Ideas TRON: Legacy and several more.
During the pandemic, Lego expanded this partnership by encouraging its members to come up with new ideas. As Zoom and Microsoft Team video calls became a regular feature of business meetings, Lego spotted an opportunity to create a unique experience: to facilitate the creation of Lego brick-built backgrounds for video calls. While this was not part of any contest, it gave members the incentive that the best entries could be published on Lego’s social media platforms.
Implementing Principles Of Change To Introduce Innovation
Businesses can implement three ideas to introduce open innovation in their companies.
They can start by defining what their objectives are for open innovation and proceed to map it closely to corporate strategy. They can aim to establish external partnerships to encourage the free flow of knowledge that accelerates innovation and additionally considers strategies to speed up the implementation of sustainable practices that help with the adoption of open innovation inputs.
Another way businesses can foster open innovation is by tweaking their hiring and learning and development practices to enable their employees to feel encouraged to dabble in open innovation. They can do this by educating their teams about the importance of shifting toward a more open approach to learning. They can also institutionalize organizational practices where open innovation is a key building block. Further, businesses can structure learning and development around open innovation and complement it with hands-on practical projects.
At my company, for example, we have instituted a research and development lab called NEXT Labs that works with several external partners, including the academia, startups and technology companies. Together these become a key resource for ideas and innovations. We also conduct enterprise-wide innovation events like Hackathons, tech fairs and webinars that encourage organization-wide exchange of knowledge.
As the world moves closer toward a gradual recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the lessons I believe businesses can learn is to leverage the benefits of open innovation. This will help companies keep pace with change, stay on top of their game and remain relevant.