Recent years have seen an increasing acceleration in innovation in technology. Now, more than ever, there is a fantastic opportunity to build innovation inside your organization, harness technology effectively, and build thriving engaged communities that are interconnected to this innovation.
In this special two-part series I am going to first cover why this innovation is happening and the broader patterns in play, and then in the next part I will provide some practical recommendations for how to harness it for doing great outreach and engagement.
Historically, organizations have been pretty siloed places. You join a company, you report into an individual person, your team works on some specific problems, and like a buddy cop comedy movie…your jurisdiction is limited (with often similar levels of laughable bickering about jurisdiction).
Some years back, open source changed this significantly. As the patchwork of available open-source technology was growing, more and more organizations were realizing they could lower costs, improve security/stability, and ship faster by utilizing different open-source components. What they let into their organizations was not just a pre-made chunk of raw material, but a new ethos that inspired conversations for how to run a business better.
You see, in the open-source world, innovation happens fast. The reason is simple: as I share often with my clients (I help companies to build communities), you cannot “tell” someone to innovate. Innovation happens where you least expect it, and from those you least expect.
The poster child (pun intended) for this is Jack Andraka who designed a more cost efficient test for pancreatic cancer at the young age of 15. Could the medical community have predicted a 15 year-old would build such a test? Of course not. The reason Andraka succeeded is because the environment he was in supported his enthusiasm to innovate.
The same applies to companies: the companies that innovate are those who build a permissive environment that allows their staff to explore, experiment, and break down typical silos that dog organization design. Of course, historically, many companies, particularly larger organizations, were unfamiliar with such a fluid environment that supports innovation.
Open source served as a forcing function to not just question an organization’s views on using publicly sourced technology, but also to ask the question “how can a bunch of volunteers on the Internet make software better and faster than all these people I am hiring?”
Open and innersource
Since those early days, open source has become a mainstay of building technology and services. A 2015 survey performed by Black Duck discovered that 78 percent of organizations are running open source (nearly double from 2010), 66 percent build open source for their customers, and 64 percent participate in open source (expected to grow to 88 percent by 2018).
Interestingly though, aside from the technological benefits of open source, an open approach to innovation also came along for the ride. Organizations were exposed to concepts such as open repositories, peer review, collaboration around issues, and other topics.
While these methodologies were typically observed in open source projects in the wild, there was also an appetite to bring them inside the walls of a company. This is known as innersource and is one of the most common areas in which I work with companies. Organizations see incredible value in working together in an open source fashion, even if no code extends outside the organization.
Importantly, when an organization is able to collaborate in an open source way internally, it makes the organization compatible for working externally too. This means you get a faster, more effective culture internally, and the ability to participate in the global open source commons too if you so desire.
The engagement opportunity & risk
For those of us who work in building communities, engagement, and marketing, this kind of open innovation creates some interesting opportunities.
Firstly, innovation drives public interest in brands. Parroting the same message over and over again about the value of a brand quickly loses interest in regular consumers of that message. New features, services, methods, and approaches always secure more interest in people. As such, if an organization innovates more, they raise the interest of consumers more. This also makes the marketeers job more interesting: you have more value, content, and material to share!
Secondly, innovation provides an opportunity to cross audience demographics more openly. There are some brands that are seen as interesting, innovative, and agile, and some which are slower, stodgier, and less interesting. If you have a brand is of the stodgier variety and starts innovating more, it can broaden your audience (and thus sales).
Thirdly, there is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with your audience and users. On one hand this could be running an open source project and encouraging code contributions, translations, documentation, and more. Outside of open source it could include creative uses of your product, building support communities where people can provide help and guidance, coordinating regional meetups and user groups, and much more.
There is an enormous amount of potential when you help your audience to feel part of the value creation process, either writing code, providing help, localizing your product, providing advocacy or any number of other things.
There is of course, some risk though. For many organizations who are new at this kind of open innovation, some staff may feel unnerved are threatened by a new era of open innovation. There are some more traditional marketeers who sometimes push back on these kinds of initiatives and the only way to bring them on board is to help them to shape the process. The worst possible scenario is to present this as “the new world” and to reject the original way of doing things.
Overall though, open innovation is growing more and more, building additional value for companies, and providing a fantastic opportunity for marketers to generate interesting, engaging, and innovative messages and audience participation.
Today we have touched on the opportunity of open innovation. Next month I will share a guide for how to (a) build an open innovation culture, and (b) how to build engagement around it. See you then!