HBS Managing Innovation Winter 2012 Course



It’s fair to say that in a technologically hyper-connected world, access to information has never been so “democratic”. That in of itself is great news or at least seems to be, only until firms realize that more information in more hands can be just more competition. Yup, in a services economy, information is gold. Not surprisingly, currently it’s services oriented firms that seem to be looking for a little “extra edge” that differentiates them from others that… you guessed it! have essentially the same information. But don’t let this disappoint you… it isn’t as if we’re back to the good old business school question on “how do firms differentiate” (or are we?).

There’s no denying that tapping the broader public presents firms with unlimited possibilities to solve different questions. But not only the talent source is virtually unlimited, this new model comes with fantastic advantages such as multidisciplinary, information sharing, alternative frames to work with, constant debate and diversity of thought, amongst others. But as if all of these weren’t enough, open source innovation is a dream come true for costs structures. It’s almost too good to be true, right? Well, not so fast.

 In words of Sandy Speicher from IDEO “the idea is the easy part of innovation. The actual implementation… takes years… The speed at which we can ideate is definitely not the speed at which we can manifest”. I thought this was a very revealing quote taken from the OpenIDEO case that also resonated well with the problems MRF faced as it went to the big pharmaceutical companies to develop the targets they had identified. It is my opinion that at this point of the open source revolution, execution poses the greater challenge if we are to believe that this new paradigm will allow the market to capture more value. Debatable, I know, but bare with me.

Control of the community was a theme that though present throughout the course we didn’t spend much time discussing class. However, it is control of the community what really drives the model. We saw this with InnoCentive as it is them who frame the problem, set the deadlines and provide the forum. We saw it in Threadless as it is them who eventually make the final decision on which designs to print. And in my view, we saw OpenIDEO exercise this prerogative the most, as the interaction with the community was the highest throughout their 8-step process. So far so good. But if we go back to competition in a services economy, doesn’t control mean an opportunity to profit? I believe it does and BTW, I believe that’s the genius of this business model. By introducing open source innovation, firms are actually “learning” to manipulate (read: control) a new process that differentiates them from competition while simultaneously tapping talent (in vast numbers) at very little cost. A home run!

Going forward, I have very little doubt that the open source revolution will extend to the execution side of the equation at which point society at large will capture more value from this fascinating model. Most likely however, by the time this happens, firms would have ideated yet another new business model, and that’s the real power of innovation. No wonder it pays to be the one-eyed king in the “perpetual beta” land.


Posted by JeronimoSilva

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