We’ve all heard about open source code and open innovation. But what the heck do they really mean and how do you profit from it?
If you’ve used Wikipedia, you’ve benefited from open source information. WIKI means “what I know is” and Wikipedia reflects what the world has shared as knowledge through that site. Participation in keeping it current and accurate is easy, and monitored to limit the impact of crazies. While it is only as accurate as the contributors and monitors, many of us look to it first for information.
Open source code is similar, in that people around the world use, test, and update a program daily to enhance its value. Linux is one example of widely used open source code, but there are many more. Just google ‘open source equivalents to Microsoft office products’ and you’ll learn about numerous options in just that space.
Similarly open source innovation comes in several varieties. The first thing to remember is that open innovation blurs the distinctions between companies, individuals, think tanks, universities and government. No one has cornered the market on genius, in any category. It’s closeminded to believe that any single organization can develop the best answers possible. And it’s wrong. The more quickly we each accept that and speed up the entrance ramp to the open innovation highway, the better our solutions become.
I’ve written previously about First Build, the self-funded open innovation center of GE’s appliance division. When GE sold that division, First Build went along with it. But GE had already doubled down on open innovation. GE’s GeniusLink is the internal profit center coordinating all open innovation efforts for GE, and non-GE organizations that choose to work with them. The company has developed FUSE, a platform similar to that of NineSigma, Innocentive, TopCoder and others to enable worldwide facilitation of problem solving. Some organizations specialize tightly, others do not. The key to success for all is a constant flow of activity and a powerful network of expert contributors.
Having learned from First Build and work with other platforms, GE has greatly broadened their scope, improved management of the contributing community, and located FUSE within launch house and maker space member-based M-Hub in Chicago. Fuse created and sponsored over 500 competitions in the last five years, and is increasing that impressive rate.
So how does all this work? First, someone has a problem they want expert help solving. They contract with NineSigma, FUSE, or whomever provides the most appropriate platform, experts and marketing for their need. The facilitator organization will create with the client company an attractive campaign, competition or other format for generating interest among the expert community. They will agree in advance how the winner(s) will be determined, and initial business relationships. That information is available to the experts as part of the project description. The goal for everyone involved is an even playing field that makes financial sense for each. Any specific problem campaign may receive as few as 10 or as many as 1000 expert submissions.
Simultaneously, people around the world who believe they may be able to help solve problems of general interest register with one or more platforms as an expert in appropriate arenas. There is no validation of background, as all ideas that can solve the problem are welcome. The GE network has over 7 million experts, which includes those of competitive platforms that GE may choose to use. Experts keep an eye on platform activities, select ones of interest and submit proposals. The decision to submit undoubtedly reflects scope, interest and technical arena, effort required, and financial opportunity.
While not all campaigns offer the same judging process, FUSE has three expert judges review each proposal and they will bring in additional judge experts should an “out of left field” submittal be of interest. This too is explained in the contest description.
While some platforms are primarily conduits between problem/potential solution, GE offers that plus micro-factories around the world to further test ideas. As other platforms find micro-factories important, they too will no doubt contract those capabilities. GE and NineSigma focus on physical challenges, while others like TopCoder focus on software. If there’s a problem of general application, there’s likely an open innovation platform qualified for it.
So how do you and your organization make money from this? Participate. It’s as simple as that.
To experience the open innovation on-ramp, I encourage you to check out each of the links in this article, plus google other specific areas of interest. Read current and past challenges, and about winning applications. If you have technical skills, you may well want to register as an expert. If your business is facing a challenge that could benefit from outside thinking, open innovation is clearly one path to consider.
When I first stumbled across the practicing world of innovators, I was beyond excited. We can learn so much faster than ever before. TRIZ demonstrated the fundamental commonalities of problem solving. Open innovation provides the friction-reducing roadway to shared thinking and knowledge. None of us has all the answers but together we can find them.