A crisis brings hardships and it takes people to their limits, but a crisis can also bring new opportunities and new ways for collaboration that haven’t been there before. Open Innovation introduces ways to get through, and beyond, the COVID-19 crisis.

Symbol for Open Innovation: two hands put two puzzle pieces together

What do we do, if we have a personal problem that we cannot solve on our own? We will most likely call a friend or a family member for advice. By doing so we are accessing an external source to resolve an issue or at least get an input of new ideas. Without that external source, we would either need more time to figure out a solution or maybe we wouldn’t be able to find a solution at all.

Talking to friends and family can come in handy to source a second opinion, and perhaps identify or eliminate any errors our suggested approach may have. The point is that our own resources are often too limited to solve pressing problems.

This little thought experiment demonstrates practicing Open Innovation in its purest form: accessing external knowledge to find solutions for pressing problems.

At the moment we see scientists and experts from all over the world collaborating and sharing expertise in search of a coronavirus vaccine. We are also witnessing businesses make use of an Open Innovation strategy to overcome the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They recognized that their own resources were too limited to find the right solutions, so they partnered with others to innovate and overcome.

In an article titled “Why Now is the Time for Open Innovation”  published in the Harvard Business Review on June 05, 2020, the authors Linus Dahlander and Martin Wallin state: “A common challenge in Open Innovation is to take on new partners.”

Being aware of the challenges that come with committing to new collaborations, they continue: “New partners always entail costs in terms of search, validation, and compliance, as well as the forming of new social relationships between people.”

However, they also acknowledge the necessity for such investments, especially during challenging times like the current COVID-19 pandemic: “And we know that when it comes to big thorny problems like COVID-19, new partners are necessary to provide complementary skills and perspectives.”

Let’s be clear, Open Innovation did not grow out of the current crisis, the pandemic merely made more organisations realise that Open Innovation was the only way to get through and beyond. What’s more, Open Innovation is not only helpful in times of crisis but also during “normal times”. Organisations will always benefit from “complementary skills and perspectives.”

There is no such thing as accumulating all the best minds in any field, in the one organisation or company. Experts are scattered all around the world and if you want to have access to that knowledge, collaboration through Open Innovation is key.

Of course, there are transformational challenges ahead. If you want “[t]o fully reap the rewards from Open Innovation, companies need to recognize the transformational challenge ahead. […] [S]uccessful Open Innovation often requires operational and structural changes to how business is done”, Dahlender and Wallin further note.

You need to invest in your employees, your culture, and your infrastructure.

Your employees must be prepared for the changes ahead and you need to create an atmosphere that is based on trust, barrier-free knowledge transfer and creative fearlessness. You need to properly manage your intellectual property and let go of the fear of losing value when collaborating with outsiders.

Those investments will all be worth it because they will determine whether your organisation is capable of competing in the global market.

A crisis brings hardships and it takes people to their limits, but it also brings new opportunities and new ways for collaboration that haven’t been apparent before. Seize that opportunity and seize the benefits of Open Innovation!

This article was originally published in Acumen, a blog of RMIT University. Here is the link to the original publication: https://sites.rmit.edu.au/rmitbusinessresearch/2020/09/02/2642-2-2-7-2-2-21-2-2/