Collaborating with external talent to innovate: Insights from InnoSchool — Introduction

InnoInsights
Mar 4 · 3 min read

This blog post is part of a series about collaborating with external talent in Open Innovation programs.

Interactions between company partners and external talent at InnoSchool

The promise of Open Innovation

Open innovation is a collaborative approach to the innovation process. Open innovation involves external actors as co-creators of innovative products and services. Companies engage in open innovation to solve complex problems that require competencies that go beyond their internal skills. Open innovation brings the promise of accelerating internal innovation, opening new markets, and creating better solutions to meet customer demand. When the term open innovation was first introduced in 2003[1], it was described as imperative to survive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. In 2015, less than fifteen years later, over 94% of the largest innovators worldwide reported engagement in some forms of out-bound R&D (Research & Development) activities[2].

As open innovation becomes more common, companies ask how they can leverage this opportunity. In 2019 we launched InnoSchool — a three-month open innovation program in Dornbirn, Austria — to help organizations benefit from open innovation. This program enables companies and external talent to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for an innovative business model.

In spite of the opportunities that open innovation holds, there are challenges. Sharing knowledge across organizational boundaries is a daunting task [3]. Differences in culture, agendas, and expectations may hinder the success of open innovation initiatives[4]. Moreover, the benefits of combining interdisciplinary skills and perspectives might be challenges by the friction created[5]. Finally, the inherent uncertainty in innovation is amplified by the need to build effective partnerships with external entities[6].

With InnoSchool, we set out to accompany companies and external innovators in their collaborative journey. In this guide, we build on existing research, our own studies and the InnoSchool experience, to share practical strategies and tips for how companies can benefit from the promises that open innovation holds.

The entrance of the InnoSchool campus at Platform V in Dornbirn, Western Austria

About InnoSchool

InnoSchool is an open innovation program that connects corporates with external talent to solve pressing innovation challenges. During InnoSchool diverse teams of company members (internal talent) and external participants (external talent) work together for three months. The program includes several learning occasions, such as workshops and mentorship sessions. Companies benefit from InnoSchool in three main ways:

  • Innovate: Build new ideas quickly by designing and testing solutions to innovation challenges;
  • Train: Equip employees with in-demand skills and empower them to innovate in an agile team;
  • Recruit: Fill talent gaps with external participants who temporarily join the innovation team.

External talents get a chance to:

  • Gain experience;
  • Enhance their skills;
  • Jumpstart their careers.

InnoSchool culminates in a demo-day where the developed MVP is showcased to company partners and external stakeholders. Two company partners and sixteen participants joined the first iteration of InnoSchool from September to December 2019.

Findings: Practical advice for companies

How can companies leverage collaboration with external talent through open innovation programs?

Our aim is to provide a fair portrayal of the worth and complexity that characterize open innovation programs. To do so, we present evidence from our own experience running InnoSchool. This gives relevant advice for company partners on how to effectively leverage the power of an open approach to innovation. The insights are structured in a blog post series that follow the three phases of (1) Before, (2) During, and (3) After the program.

Notes

[1] Henry William Chesbrough, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (Harvard Business Press, 2003).

[2] Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Schwartz, and Volker Staack, “Innovation’s New World Order,” strategy+ business 27 (2015).

[3] M. Kodama, “Knowledge Creation through Networked Strategic Communities — Case Studies on New Product Development in Japanese Companies,” Long Range Planning 38, no. 1 (2005).

[4] Morgan Swink, “Building Collaborative Innovation Capability,” Research-technology management 49, no. 2 (2006).

[5] Amy C Edmondson and Jean-François Harvey, “Cross-Boundary Teaming for Innovation: Integrating Research on Teams and Knowledge in Organizations,” Human Resource Management Review (2017).

[6] Marcel Bogers, Henry Chesbrough, and Carlos Moedas, “Open Innovation: Research, Practices, and Policies,” California management review 60, no. 2 (2018).

InnoInsights

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InnoInsights aims to be a source of inspiration and guidance for how organizations can collaborate with external innovators.

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