Five questions about open innovation with Stefan Lindegaard

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Five questions

On Wednesday, September 1, will be hosting a webcast with Stefan Lindegaard, one of the world's leading experts on open innovation.

Sign up for the webcast now

Stefan is author of the recently published book The Open Innovation Revolution, and blogs regularly on and

We see a lot of commonalities between the open source way and the key concepts of open innovation, and thought inviting Stefan to come share his knowledge about open innovation with the audience might be a good way to spur dialog between people in open source and open innovation communities.

In preparation for the webcast, we've asked Stefan five questions about subjects he may cover in more detail on September 1.

CHRIS: Early in your book, The Open Innovation Revolution, you share an idea that came out of one of your discussions with innovation leaders: "Embracing the outside requires that you know the inside." Why do you think companies struggle so much to understand their own internal innovation model? How does this hinder their ability to pursue open innovation strategies?

STEFAN: Companies have chronic issues making innovation happen internally. This has many reasons. Executives might not fully understand innovation, the organization is not trained for innovation or there is just not enough focus on how to make innovation happen. On the latter, I can add that only very few companies actually have an innovation strategy that is aligned with the overall corporate strategy.

If you want to bring in external partners to your innovation process, these partners expect that you have order in your own house. If you fail to work efficiently with these partners nothing happens in terms of outcome. Even worse, the word spreads that you are not a good innovation partner and thus you will have a harder time attracting future partners.  

Some companies believe that if they just embrace open innovation, then all their internal innovation issues will be solved. This will not happen. Open innovation is not a holy grail.

CHRIS: You talk about transparency of knowledge as a megatrend that has spurred open innovation, and we've seen that in the open source world as well. Yet many companies would view this trend as a threat, often from an intellectual property or risk/liability perspective. How do you suggest companies safely approach transparency as a business strategy?

STEFAN: Where does knowledge reside? It is not in a corporate database where you can access it as long as you have the right passwords. Knowledge resides inside the heads of people and the development of tools such as LinkedIn has made it much easier to identify people who know something that can contribute to innovation. This is not the same as saying that you have access to the knowledge, but being able to find the right people fast is a great first step.

Companies can protect what they know through intellectual property techniques. But essentially transparency is about trust and risk management. Do you trust your employees can become better contributors if they begin sharing their knowledge and actively seek the knowledge of others? If you want to hide your employees in a dark basement and keep their knowledge secret, I am quite sure you will lose the best people very fast.

This brings transparency down to how you handle risk as there will be risk involved when you start to open up and share your knowledge. How much should you open up? How should you do it? The answers to these questions vary from company to company and industry to industry so the right approach depends on the specific situation of a company.

CHRIS: In chapter 7 of the book, you speculate that executives are often one of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of successful innovation efforts, and suggest a key reason is the pressure to bow to short-term financial pressures. How can companies escape this trap?

STEFAN: The sad thing is that you cannot really solve this problem if the executives do not get innovation and show no real interest in innovation. It is very difficult to make changes like this in a bottom-up approach. Some companies can do well for a while even though they are not good at innovation, but sooner or later they will be in big trouble. This creates a burning platform that can open up the eyes of the executives—if they have not already been replaced. Then you can start working on a more balanced view between the long and short-term interests of the company.

CHRIS: In the open source world, we believe strongly in the power of creating a culture of meritocracy, where the best ideas have a chance to win no matter where they came from. Do you see many strong meritocracies in the open innovation world?

STEFAN: Giving the best ideas a real chance no matter where they come from is very much what open innovation is about so yes, I do see this in the open innovation world. However, there is a big difference between the open innovation world and the innovation world.

Not that many companies have seriously embraced open innovation and thus we still have lots of companies where the culture of meritocracy has a difficult time. Some reasons include strong not-invented-here cultures and the strong role of R&D in many organizations.

Innovation needs to be about more than just products or technologies and this is often difficult if the innovation culture is driven by a strong R&D unit that might not value other disciplines and functions as much as their own.   

CHRIS: In my experience, open innovation and open source share many common themes, yet we tend not to see open source and open innovation people hanging out at the same parties quite yet. I wonder if this is because of a difference in the perspective from which each community is approaching "openness."  Your thoughts?

STEFAN: I wonder about this as well and I hope this will begin to change. There are differences, but there are also many similarities and I believe stakeholders in both communities can benefit from interacting more with each other.

On different perspectives, I notice a general view in the open innovation community that open source is very much about software and that this industry has its own processes and rules that are different—and perhaps too different—from many other companies.

Another common view on open source within the open innovation community is that open source is very much about co-creating as well as co-owning what is being developed in order for everyone to benefit. This is definitely not the case with the leading open innovation companies. They try—some better than others—to set up partnerships that create true win-win situations, but the leading open innovation companies are much more focused on their own benefits than the overall benefits for a larger society.

Are these perceptions true? Personally, I am very interested in hearing views from the open source community on this. It would also be great to hear how the open source community views the open innovation community. We need to figure out where the common ground is and interactions like this is a great start.

Thanks so much for your time. We look forward to the webcast!

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)

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