Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Open Innovation Vs. Co-creation

Obvious first question is ‘Does Open innovation and Co-creation need to be put against each other or even put together?’

Not really, unless you are already wondering about the differences! You question if there is a common ground. Or simply you want to use these terms and be on the same page with someone else.

Let’s attempt theory of elimination.

In Open innovation, you would have a) a clear need specified b) you would go out of your enterprise boundaries to get those needs fulfilled c) you would expect the solution to be ready or semi ready d) Your solution provider might be a financial beneficiary, but may not be the end user. e) Your needs are highly technical, and you have already figured out the value creation from the expected solution.

(When an enterprise wants molecule A reacting with molecule B with the help of unknown C, so that they can get D. Boundaries are set. A good open innovation candidate is on the table.).

Anything which does not have one or more of above attributes could possibly have a flavor of Co-creation. 

Here is how.

a) You don’t have a clear need or a challenge (circumstantial or by design). You might have a high level goal, for which you are open to define a challenge and solve it using some means.   Or you could be simply tuning in to see what you can pick up.  

b) You are not scouting for a solution; you are scouting for people. These people are enthusiasts or lead users who can work with you to define both the challenge and the solution or either of it. You may or may not go out of your enterprise or may just stick to your known circle like customers, vendors or employees.

c) You do not expect the solution to be ready or semi ready.  Since even the problem is open for definition and zeroing in - you most probably may start with a clean slate.

d) In addition to technical know-how you are banking on the emotional participation from a solution provider. Just like co-founders of a start-up, who are far more interested to crack the right need as a team and not just utilize co-founder as another resource.

e) Your needs may or may not be highly technical in nature. The value expected from the outcome may still not be known and the same is being co-created.

Those being some differences for co-creation with respect to open innovation, are there any similarities?

In both open innovation and co-creation – you are fundamentally trying to leverage resources which are not traditional ones, not necessarily on your payroll, on your approved list of vendor, or certified by someone, and not designated to execute your innovation solution.

You may not upfront know how many will contribute, and that number may not even matter to you!

In both cases you are trying to tap into the long tail phenomenon. Your success rate is not 10 out of 10, but your cost is lower and you are keen to stumble upon value which otherwise could remain hidden or be eventually found at your competition’s camp.

So what do you believe in - open innovation or co-creation, or did you feel like redefining some of the definitions above?

ideaken team enjoys understanding how open innovation and co-creation space is shaping up, and how the innovation platforms must enable enterprises to increase the collaborative innovation yield.


  1. I have a question regarding open innovation and crowdsourcing. Maybe this questions is close to the first one. Do you think that crowdsourcing is one instrument of open innovation?

  2. Yes - it is! Consider Alex Osterwalder Crowdsourcing effort of creating the book Businessmodelgeneration - see www.businessmodelhub.com. The effort gathered 570 professionals around the world - developed new ideas on the issue of business model innovations, created tools and empowered a practice on the issue based upon the Creative Common license.


  3. I don't think there is comparison between Open Innovation and Co-Creation. Open Innovation is a mindset within an organization and not a specific tool or methodology as such. Co-Creation on the other hand is a specific methodology to integrate your customers (or any other partners) in the early stage of the innovation process. In a few years out most companies will adopt some degree of openess as part of their innovation activities and co-creation or scouting will be ways of enabling this openess.

  4. I agree with Klaus. As the Open Innovation mindset/buzz-word becomes accepted in boardroom increased emphasis is put on 'how do we do it?' 'how do we measure how good we are at it?' and 'how do we adjust our mainstream processes to embed it into our organisation?' This, quite sensibly, leads to work on selecting specific tools and fitting them together to deliver the vision/value promised, benchmarking progress and learning from this.

  5. @ Klaus - The comparison may not be needed as I said in the blog, as each enterprise looks at it in a different ways. What I have done is point out the differences in practice I have come across while dealing with many enterprises in last 2 years. I call collaborative innovation as a super set of open innovation and co-creation, wisdom of crowd being the mechanism. But in the end I agree that we can not have a agreement on these definitions.

    @Peter - I call open innovation and co-creation being the tools for collaborative innovation, however they could be just the mindset as you correctly pointed out.

  6. Is there such a thing as open innovation? Name 5 great "open innovation" inventions.

    Co-creation, if I understand you is where two or more members of the same R&D department work together to solve a problem and invent something. This is very common. Many, perhaps most, patents list multiple inventors.

  7. Independent Inventors, Corporate Inventions and Innovations by more then single founders or employees, Open Innovations where many contribute to the New Art, shared-innovations where a discovery was made and a team is assembled for advanced R&D and scientific plus business explorations and exploitations in safe beneficial commercial ways - BOTH Co-creation as partnerships or contributions to Open Innovations are part of the larger evolution of new ideas into products and services we want, need or hope to have.
    So Yes, these are related and are parts of the options before us, so therefore I recommend choosing, by "The Best interests of The project and its consumers and partners" as the starting point for the 'mother of invention' as we know the original idea 'sparked'.

  8. @Thomas - Sorry Thomas, but every successful invention was questioned in the same way as you are questioning OI. There is nothing wrong in questioning it and asking for a proof. As the name says there are only innovations which could be referred, not heard of any inventions. Though there are quite a bit of open innovation stories out there, here is one link you can refer - http://innovationcasestudies.blogspot.com/

    @Amnon - Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I usually refer collaborative innovation as a super set of open innovation and co-creation, specifically for someone who wants to define and differentiate open innovation and co-creation.

  9. Well, "Does Open Does Open innovation and Co-creation need to be put against each other or even put together?" ??

    I think a lot of people ask something similar and my own feeling is that it boils down to innovation leverage.

    We have these different concepts because they point in different directions. I've just been through 4 years of designing a Co-Creation platform so we've been through a bunch of such questions.

    We came to the conclusion that "utilizing an external network for adding value" is a matter of crowd sourcing. Allowing externals to idea-pitch followed up by an inside-the-company response is Open Innovation.

    And that Co-creation is about building up an idea together with other externals and inside-the-company people through real time collaboration.

    So both Open Innovation and Co-Creation has crowd sourcing within it. But the difference is the amount of people who work on an idea (or need for that matter) at the same time and for how long.

    To take things a bit further, and you do touch the subject a bit: the huge difference is how much of the final system is defined at the time one of the two processes is initiated.

    I'd also go for defining Open Innovation as "system ready" meaning the whole of a system is more or less created and needs a final idea to work.

    Depending on the level of complexity, that could happen with Co-creation as well but to get a bunch of people to work on the same idea, it helps a heap if it's a vision based process.

    In my mind - Co-creation and Open Innovation have nothing to do with mass customization!!! Meaning, they are not about adding something to an existing form & function (product/service).

    I'll definitely go for a difference in innovation directionality.

  10. Thanks Erik for your elaborate comment. I agree wisdom of crowds of crowd sourcing is the super set. As these concepts can be used for anything including designing a logo, I usually call collaborative innovation as a super set of open innovation and co-creation.

    I did not understand your last point on "adding something to an existing form ..", I would say incremental innovation could have open innovation or co-creation factor.

  11. Jayesh, perhaps you are interested in http://www.slideshare.net/activistiam/summary-of-types-of-ideation or http://www.slideshare.net/activistiam/open-innovation-vs-experience-co-creation-1374905

    IMO we should not compete between ideation types but more combine some of the premises of each of it to create a unique combination for each organizational context.

  12. Hi Daniel, good to hear from you. How you doing? Thanks for sharing the links, I had not come across the first one and it does have some good information out there.

  13. About ten years ago, our company furnished the lobby with stainless steel & glass furnishings from Europe. We special ordered a stainless steel refrigerator (very few being sold in US at the time) and made our own brushed stainless-steel counter tops in the "coffee room."

    We invited a key tier 2 manufacturer of TV stands to our factory. Our goal was to impress upon them that a paradigm shift was about to take place. The bigger question was whether they shared our vision of similar styled stainless & glass furnishings in their industry, so prevalent with heavy black wood cabinetry and glass doors.

    My idea was initially met with skepticism, but shortly after they presented this innovative concept to their customer (a leading consumer brand), it didn't take long for them to design and prototype the first of many open frame, glass TV stands. While specific design elements were patentable, it was open innovation that got the ball rolling; and from a supplier who had no previous history (or bias) in the TV stands industry. Just looking for an innovative way to grow our business since the TV stands had metal parts on them.

    Several month later, the product was displayed at the CES Show and became an industry trend setter. It likely would have happened anyway, but speaks volumes as to the benefits of collaborative product development, whether by open innovation or co-creation or whatever terminology one chooses to apply these days.

    I guess we could put a rock in a handful of straw and sell it as a pet rock. No that wouldn't sell, its not innovative enough to solve a problem. Darn those ideation folks!

  14. Hi Mick, I remember pet rocks:) I have no argument that inventions that are donated to the public domain are less valuable than inventions that are patented. However, I do think that at least some inventions are better developed through a tightly controlled group and not just thrown out to the world like Linux and Wikipedia. I think that MS and Apple make operating systems that are better than Linux (ok maybe not MS) and that most proprietary software is better than freeware. Or maybe I should put it: most of the good software is proprietary. This is a basic capitalist understanding. Look at all the great products that came out of the USSR and eastern europe under socialism!

    Obviously as a patent attorney I have a vested interest in keeping technology proprietary, but I honestly believe that capitalism (minus corrupt banksters) is the best way.

    Certainly giving away something to grow your business is a good capitalist strategy. Most of us know it from the razors and the razor blades but there are lots of "loss leaders" to be found.