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Integrating open innovation within your organisation

In this video we'll hear advice from two open innovation experts from Durham University on how to make it a success in your own contexts.
The whole idea of open innovation is very exciting. And my two key take aways or my two key recommendations would be firstly, open innovation takes time. It’s a gradual process. So as a manager, don’t expect to see results over night. This will take time, because it’s not just about a process. It’s about a cultural change. It’s about how you view things. It’s how well you work with others. So this is a slow process. And the second thing is about allowing managers to make decisions. And what I mean by this is don’t be obsessed with becoming a lean organisation, because in many ways, that’s the easiest solution.
To introduce a new process with a number of KPIs, while it might seem like a good idea, it does stifle creativity. It does stifle managers from coming with some excellent ideas. It also means of course, as an organisation, there’s an element of training. Because if you want to have the right quality of decision making, we need to train your managers. So my two takeaways are it’s not a quick fix. It takes time. And second thing is don’t be obsessed with becoming lean.
I think companies that take a broad view of innovation within the organisation work well. So companies which have innovation as a key core strategic objective across the organisation are companies which are easy to deal with. And certainly, when you’re actually dealing with the different bits within the companies, the bits will communicate well across the business. So often, a business which has a common open innovation champion or section can work very well across the business, rather than dealing with siloed activity where there’s separate subsets within the business. It’s often less effective when we’re dealing with companies. I don’t think you have to be a large company tend to do well in this area.
We’ve certainly got plenty of experience working with small to medium size enterprises, which we’ve also worked very successfully. And there’s still principles we can apply without big corporate partners that have worked equally well. So I have projects working with companies which may be only have 30 and 40 employees, but they’re there engaging in collaborative research with us as a university. They’re using our facilities. They’re engaging in a teaching programmes and bringing their expertise in the particular technical and commercial areas to benefit the work we did in biology and chemistry here. They’re also taking on our graduates as employees.
So it’s a nice win-win, where we’re innovating with the companies and we’re also getting our students and post graduates actually into employment at the end of the day. So as with all of this type work, it’s got to be multiple benefits from what we’re actually doing as part of it.

In the video we’ll hear Dr Hammond talk about the importance of making open innovation a core strategic objective which is well communicated across the organisation and Professor Fernandes gives his top two tips for managers looking to implement open innovation.

Professor Fernandes also talks about understanding that cultural change takes time. Let’s now consider the culture that would need to be developed to ensure that open innovation becomes more than a mechanism for collecting ideas and actually transforms the whole innovation process.

In week 2 we explored the role the network can play in shaping relationships that can lead to open innovation. As organisations develop processes for engaging with open innovation, however, they need to overcome some of the challenges associated with managing innovation in general – for example protecting intellectual property. Laursen and Salter (2014) explored some aspects of this and found what they called the ‘paradox’ of openness. As they explain, the creation of innovations requires openness, yet their commercialisation requires protection. There is therefore a balance that needs to be achieved between establishing processes for protecting innovations, eg legal documents and collaborative agreements, and the degree of openness with external parties, eg the development of informal relationships for the sharing of ideas. If, on one hand, the legal protection is too restrictive then individuals will be less likely to exchange ideas. If on the other there is no legal protection, the willingness to share ideas may be reduced.

Developing a culture of open innovation therefore requires an appreciation of this paradox. This may start with an understanding of an organisation’s strength and weaknesses which can provide confidence to individuals in sharing and seeking ideas. For instance, if an organisation knows what it is good at and why, then it knows how much information it can share without compromising its intellectual property. Similarly, if an organisation knows what it is missing then it can be more confident in seeking new partnerships, which it knows can be beneficial.

Clearly, this is not an easy task. Although setting up processes and legal agreements for managing the relationship between two or parties may relatively straight forward, developing a close relationship based on trust requires a significantly higher level of engagement. Training and a ‘no blame’ culture are key enablers in this journey.


  • Consider the barriers to the implementation of an open innovation culture in your organisation.
  • Do you think there are processes, such as ones for protection of IP which prohibit individuals from speaking to an organisation?
  • As a customer, have you ever been able to talk openly to any organisation about the development of a new product or a new service? If so, what was the process like? For instance, were you asked to sign any agreement or contract?


Laursen, K. and Salter, A.J. (2014) ‘The paradox of openness: Appropriability, external search and collaboration’, Research Policy, 43, pp867-878.

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Harnessing Open Innovation in Business

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