These are the words of Christian Cotichini, co-founder and CEO of the HeroX innovation platform. There is growing recognition among organization leaders that opening up challenges to a wider audience than just in-house colleagues can provide faster and more effective solutions. Though low understanding of how the process actually works can restrict even internal discussions about using it.

So here’s the elevator pitch. A homeowner who wants to monetize spare accommodation can go to Airbnb that has a network of people who want somewhere to stay. An organization with an issue that requires a solution can take it to an open innovation platform who will offer it as a prize challenge to its network of would-be solution providers.

Benefits of open innovation

These are often stated, and a reprise does no harm. In the marketplace of digital connectivity, there are no physical barriers or restrictions. 

  • There are no geographic boundaries on where to look for ideas and solutions. 
  • Get input from people with different cultures and beliefs. 
  • Access some non-core talent your organization would never employ on a regular basis. 
  • Go to fresh thinkers who are outside the organization’s corporate mindset. 
  • Have people all round the world thinking 24/7 about your challenge to make things happen faster. 
  • Engage with additional intelligence horsepower when you need it.

NASA is a committed user of prize challenges, for all the above reasons. Their latest project with HeroX seeks design input for an electronics-free obstacle avoidance sensor on a rover vehicle to be used on Venus. The planet’s harsh conditions dictate solutions based on more elemental technology such as a clockwork mechanism. Up to $30,000 is available in varied amounts to three winners.

Open Innovation Platforms Share Human Brains and Ingenuity Like Airbnb Shares Spare Accommodation

Image source: https://www.herox.com/VenusRover

Despite an easy-to-grasp analogy, proven benefits and high profile users, what holds organizations back?

Most businesses provide solutions, and in turn they expect to buy solutions. When a complication crops up, or they wish to address a new development, many organization leaders consider open innovation to be just another means to access a solution.

Many fail to grasp they are not going to be just handed a solution. They are actually entering a co-creation process that will challenge senior management perceptions of who is supposed to be doing what, and thus their ability to manage the process. It will require inputs from company employees, some of whom may see it as a step towards outsourcing their role. It could involve sharing information considered at least competitively sensitive if not formally confidential. 

Once the realization dawns among people that they are going to have to operate outside their comfort zones, well, we are told that it is natural human instinct to resist change.

Generational behavior

Christian Cotichini says HeroX has found that change resistance and attitudes to using open innovation do tend to follow generational patterns. Digital natives are keen to embrace it, and Gen Z-ers are their more extreme weaponized version!

Digital immigrants have a chance to adapt to an organization working beyond the confines of its own workforce, whereas the analogue natives are the ones most likely to be caught moving slow and in the wrong direction.

An entry-level open innovation technique?

An easier way for a novice user to approach open innovation is demonstrated by the current ITEAM (Individuals Taking Energy Action in Manufacturing) Prize Challenge running for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Launched in October 2019, solution providers have until May 16 this year to submit details of measures they have already introduced to reduce energy usage in a manufacturing workplace.The DOE is switched to “receive mode” only and has avoided an iterative process.

There are three levels of awards based on the manpower levels employed, and in each category there will be five winners of $5,000. In addition to the cash prizes, winners will also receive a reputational boost through recognition at the Association of Energy Engineers World Energy Conference and Expo, and will have their winning ideas and practices highlighted in the Better Buildings Solutions Center.

Open Innovation Platforms Share Human Brains and Ingenuity Like Airbnb Shares Spare Accommodation

Image source: https://www.herox.com/ITEAM

Open innovation as a marketing tool

It’s not a new idea to suggest that asking customers what they think of you makes them feel listened to, appreciated and valued. This is what athletic clothing retailer Lululemon is doing in their current open innovation prize challenge on HeroX. They asked for ideas from users and non-customers as well on how to improve the time that people spend in their 450+ stores, in their community spaces and at their community events (main image). Entrants could work as individuals or assemble a team.

Submissions had to be made by March 20 and online voting is taking place right now until April 3 on over 80 ideas, such as these four.

Winners will be announced later in April 2020. Successful participants will win merchandise, cash or other rewards, including an expenses-paid visit to the company headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, from anywhere in the world for the top three winners to present their proposals in person. 

The providers of the best ideas will also gain invaluable experience and some prestige from working with Lululemon’s R&D lab to see their suggestions brought to life. All intellectual property rights will remain with the innovator.

HeroX’s diverse client base is a testament to the flexibility of open innovation prize challenges as a means for organizations to cost and time efficiently source effective solutions to unlock improved customer value. Though whether commercial or non-profit, in the corporate world or government-related, there are many potential users who share common misperceptions over how to reach the best outcomes. We’d like to hear about any of your relevant experiences.