Purpose, Culture, Action: The Essentials Of Open Innovation

Shannon Lester

Have you ever heard of open innovation?

It’s a term author and business professor Henry Chesbrough coined back in 2003. But recently, leading organizations have embraced it – for good reason.

Open innovation involves collaborative partnerships between young, dynamic companies and established organizations. It’s all about pooling complementary talent and resources to drive competitive advantage, increase profits, and most importantly create new and lasting value for customers.

Defining open innovation is simple. Practicing it is more complicated. In the most recent episode of Game-Changing Conversations, presented by SAP, our panel of experts discussed how to ready your business for open innovation. Referencing a few of their favorite quotes, these thought leaders offered listeners three key pieces of advice:

1. Find your purpose: Be the change you wish to see in the world

In the past, people were motivated by their paycheck. You got up, went to work, collected your check, and went home. Then, you did it all over again. A bit depressing, no?

Thankfully, that’s changed. Today’s employees have shifted from a paycheck mentality to a purpose mentality, and they want to make an impact with their work.

For millennials, a sense of professional purpose is particularly key. In an Imperative global survey of 26,000 LinkedIn members, 74% of respondents said they were seeking a job where their work feels like it matters. In The Deloitte Millennials Survey 2017, respondents cited work as the place they feel most able to make an impact, and 76% said business can be a force for good in society.

So why is purpose and pushing to do good in business important for open innovation? Panelist Akshay Patel, co-founder of SustAnalyze, explained that aligning work around a set of core values and using it to resolve social challenges (like sustainability, safety, well-being, and job creation) can provide people with the “significant motivation” they need to change the status quo.

In other words, purpose inspires passion, which increases creativity and productivity, which ultimately leads to new and innovative ideas and partnerships with the power to change the world.

2. Create a climate of exchange: Culture eats strategy for breakfast

If open innovation begins with purpose, it’s propelled by culture. The world’s smartest businesses know innovation is too important to leave to one person, one department, or even one organization. But they also understand that building a springboard for change begins at home – with an agile, collaborative business culture that encourages the exchange of ideas.

This culture not only requires time and effort to create, but it must come from the top – and every employee must get on board. Yet the majority of executives spend just 20% of their time establishing, enforcing, and influencing culture.

And that’s a problem. “Culture is the sum of all behaviors,” panelist Scott Schwartzman, VP of the SAP Global Strategic Customer Program, explained. In other words, even if your CEO has the best vision, the most altruistic purpose, and a well-defined strategy, it will never take root without collective buy-in. And if your business can’t even establish a workplace culture its own employees opt into, how will you know what to look for in a partner?

3. Think small and fail fast: Don’t start with moon shots

Let’s say you’ve found your purpose and established your culture. Now, where do you focus your innovation efforts? Do you want to cure cancer? Resolve the South Africa water shortage? Sustain life on Mars?

While goals like these are admirable, they’re also a tad lofty – and incredibly long-term. In a world where time is money and technology is changing at warp speed, wouldn’t it be smarter – and easier – to start small before you think big?

That’s the final point Schwartzman and Upen Barve, director of the customer office for the SAP Innovation Center Network, made by sharing a story from the Harvard Business Review on MD Anderson Cancer Center’s “moon shot” project. The lesson: When innovating, aim small, fail fast, and stay agile.

And when failure inevitably happens, learn from it and let it go. The reality is that sometimes, having a shared purpose, the right culture, and a great idea simply aren’t enough. In those moments, you have three options: stop the project, shift your focus, or look for resources elsewhere.

The final word

As the broadcast came to a close, our panelists shifted from offering advice to anticipating the future. Their prediction? As companies begin to transform from profit- to purpose-led, culture becomes as important as processes. And as organizations look for more collaborative ways to drive change, open innovation will become a central tenet of business. Will your organization be ready?

Game-Changing Conversations, Presented by SAP, is an online radio series focused on co-innovation, purpose, partnership, and collaboration. To learn more, listen to the episode.


Shannon Lester

About Shannon Lester

Shannon Lester is the Global Marketing Leader for SAP’s Strategic Customer Program. She has over 20 years of marketing experience in technology and professional services, with a strong background in executive stakeholder management and demand generation. Shannon lives in Canada with her husband and two children.