Archive for the 'Opinions' Category

A Charter for Open Innovation

February 05th, 2010 | Category: Innovation direction,Open Innovation,Opinions

Here as promised are a draft list of Open Innovation Principles. I’ve framed these around the type of Open Innovations that CoCatalyst, my company offers so they will need some adaption to other Open Innovators. It would be great to get your feedback on this Charter.

The CoCatalyst Charter for Open Innovation

The purpose of this charter

Open Innovation offers a way for companies to identify faster, lower cost and more impactful business growth solutions with potentially more certain outcomes than can be obtained through traditional innovation models. Whilst Open Innovation offers big benefits, in our experience there are a number of concerns people have with this approach. What we seek to do is to work hand in hand with our clients to overcome these issues and ensure they get the most from Open Innovation.

The purpose of this charter is to spell out how we do this.

The way we work

Helping you succeed
We are experienced in the area of Open Innovation and we can help you through the entire process, engaging at both strategic and tactical levels as required. We will work closely with you to identify what a successful outcome would be for you and agree the steps needed to achieve it.

Operating fairly
We will not undertake work where a conflict of interest exists. We make sure dealings with third parties (e.g. solution providers or seekers) are fair and even handed because we want to make sure that both our reputation and your reputation are protected.

We will keep you informed of progress through regular updates.
In our experience, we have found that up-front dialogue, clearly setting expectations and continued two-way communication are essential to building enduring and trusting relationships. Our Open Innovation process applies this principle throughout the activity programme and with all parties.

You are in control
We operate a stepped Open Innovation process and you have the opportunity to redirect or stop particular activities at any point.
We will not make any commitments on your behalf without your formal agreement.

Delivering what we promise
We will meet the timeliness and quality commitments we have made and ensure there are no surprise fees either from Cocatalyst or Associated Agents.

Assuring Confidentiality
We will take your needs or technologies and turn them into a form which allows us to share them at the most appropriate level of confidentially. We will agree with you how much or how little you want us to share with potential solution providers or seekers. We will agree with you which industries and experts to approach and more importantly those not to approach. We are happy to sign your non-disclosure agreement.

Providing relevant and credible Information
Our process is designed to focus research on finding high quality contacts by targeting potentially strong solution areas and linking to industries where appropriate capabilities or needs already exist. We understand that your time is valuable so we focus on ensuring that the information we provide is relevant and based on solid evidence.

Delivering the benefits into your business
When we have identified promising solutions and potential partners, we will help you to understand the best way to integrate these with your current business and systems.

In later posts I’ll go into a bit more detail behind why I’ve chosen these principles. Hopefully, in future, this Charter might make a small contribution to trust building in Open Innovation.

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10 common Open Innovation mistakes

For many years innovative organisations have been trying to resolve the conundrum of how to get to bigger impact innovation more quickly and with less investment. In answer to this, the practice of Open Innovation is increasingly being adopted as the normal mode of operation for leading innovative companies. Open Innovation, applied correctly, offers the opportunity to access leading capabilities from around the world, exploiting complementary technologies and partnerships to short-cut the need for expensive internal activity and to realise innovation strategies faster. Some companies have adapted to this new way of working quickly and relatively painlessly but many organisations have had teething problems, to say the least. We have identified 10 common mistakes which can stop organisations from benefiting from the Open Innovation way of working.

1. Engaging externally without a clear innovation strategy

With all the talk about Open Innovation, it’s tempting to just give it a quick go. Just because Open Innovation is current flavour of the month and you’re just trying it out doesn’t mean that you should avoid linking it to your strategic objectives. In this respect, it’s just like any other type of innovation – if it’s not linked to strategy, you’re unlikely to be able to implement it and you’ll end up burning money.

2. Poor definition of the requirement or need

A poorly defined initial brief can make the crucial difference between success and failure to connect with potentially relevant partners. One aspect of poor definition which I see time and time again in Open Innovation is requirement definitions which focus on pre-conceived solutions rather than focusing on functions and parameters to be delivered. This kind of thinking really narrows down the solution space at a point when the process should really be divergent and it can seriously obstruct cross-industry engagement. A key area where Open Innovation can really score is in bringing in cross industry connections. These are great because you’re less likely to have competitive issues and if you’re clever about connecting with the right industry, their technology can be more advanced than yours. If your brief stops you making cross industry connections you’re going to miss out on big opportunities for faster, lower cost and bigger impact innovation.

3. Failing to get sufficient internal business or brand team engagement

Using Open Innovation, you can connect with great partners, but if you can’t get the attention of your internal business or brand teams then all you effort can be wasted. Clearly, having a shared innovation strategy will help a lot but sometimes you also need to find ways to engage your internal customers in the possibilities that the world outside the business can offer. Creating an engagement strategy upfront linked to organisation and processes to deal with this new form of innovation can be critical in getting buy-in and “pull” for your externally sourced ideas and technologies.

4. Not having a clear, aligned internal view about how to handle IP

This may seem obvious, but Open Innovation projects can stall not only as a result of failure to agree external terms around IP licensing or sharing but also through internal misalignment with regard to IP. I remember a meeting amongst IP professionals where Open Innovation was discussed where two whole flip charts of IP issues were raised before a single positive aspect of Open Innovation was mentioned. The IP team needs to be actively engaged in your Open Innovation strategy, with a mindset based on finding ways to make it happen.

5. Ruling out radical or unexpected options too quickly

One interesting factor with broad based Open Innovation is that potential solutions can come from anywhere. This can sometimes make it difficult to understand the value of solutions which are really different. If the requirement has been set poorly, it can be all too easy to miss the option which might give you a real innovation edge.

6. Lack of variety in Open Innovation approach

The Open Innovation area has evolved significantly since its inception some year ago. This means that there are many options which can help you to connect with potentially valuable partners. Many companies still fail to exploit the richness that is on offer and stay with one supplier. This can seriously jeopardise the chances of finding the right partner. For example, the average success rate achieved through idea market places such as Nine Sigma or Innocentive is around 40%. That means that 6 times out of every 10 you will fail to get the result you want. The best option is use a combined approach of two or more Open Innovation service providers.

7. Not understanding the attitude as well as capabilities of potential partners

A potential partner might have the right technology to satisfy your needs but do they have the right internal motivations, attitudes and behaviours to become a long term, trusted partner? Many of the on-line Open Innovation tools fail to give you a flavour of this important part of your potential partner’s profile. You need to make sure your evaluation tools and review processes specifically probe this area.

8. Not respecting the needs of potential partners

In any innovation process, lack of feedback can quickly kill interest from the solution provider end. At the least, the solution provider deserves a rapid and detailed response so that they can stay engaged with the process and feel better equipped to answer the next challenge. The decision making processes in large organisations can be long and drawn out and without any interim feedback or indication of good faith the solution provider can become suspicious even before a direct contact has been made. This really isn’t a good way to start a new long term relationship.

9. Looking at potential partners in isolation

Modern innovation often requires complex combinations of capabilities to be brought together, creating unique and sustainable value to the end customer. A step that is commonly missed is to try to “join the dots” and consider interesting combinations of capabilities. An even more sophisticated route which is often overlooked is to creating additional value by bringing together disparate network contacts to solve problems which are mutually important to you and your partners.

10. Last but not least…failure to build trust

If you were asked by a mysterious company to share your deepest technology secrets in an open “non-confidential” way with only the vaguest chance of any reward at the end, would you do it? The only reason that solution providers do just this is because they have some (possibly unwarranted) trust in the Open Innovation process and some belief that they may have just the right solution for the client. Going into Open Innovation without a win-win approach and behaviours which deliberately build trust will quickly kill your chances of getting anything meaningful and long term from it.


Open Innovation Version 2.0 – collaborate like the Wright Brothers

October 25th, 2008 | Category: Innovation direction,Open Innovation,Opinions


Apart from the specific area of Open source code, where collaboration is key, in my opinion, Open Innovation has yet to fulfil its potential in generating powerful collaboration between overlapping communities of practice. When the Wright brothers turned their attention to making the first powered heavier-than-air flying machine, they brought with them considerable expertise from bicycle manufacture and through their connections in the burgeoning automotive companies, they brought in a power plant with an acceptable power-to-weight ratio. The Wright brothers didn’t work in a vacuum, however, but shared their thoughts with a number of similarly minded, but diversely expereinced, enthusiasts around the world and learnt about flight control from their own and others’ experiments with kites and gliders. The common factor in this collaboration was a shared interest and enthusiasm. Deep levels of collaboration were achieved without the power of the internet, but largely through the now unfashionable medium of letter writing. 

I see some signs today of similar virtual groups coming together to work on things like electric cars and open source software but I think that often bigger companies miss out on the opportunity to benefit from this sort of collaboration. I don’t think it would be impossible for a bigger company, given the right network connections and attitude, to encourage innovation which is both collaborative and mutually beneficial with a network of collaborators from different but complementary fields. If this happened, it might start to move us towards a more collaborative and less competitive Open Innovation Version 2 where the rewards of Open Innovation in terms of growth could be far larger than those enjoyed today.

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My Citizen M experience – why innovation can drive you mad

September 19th, 2008 | Category: Consumer centred,Opinions,Product Reviews


While visiting Philips Applied Technologies last week, I had the opportunity to try out the Citizen M hotel described in a previous post. As a reminder, Citizen M sets out to create a quirky, low cost, five star hotel experience with the help of some cool technologies from Philips.

To be honest though , my own experience was a bit mixed, so here goes with the good and the bad:

Good stuff:

1. On-line booking was relatively easy once I’d got the hang of the website and you could do some cool things like individualise the look and feel of the room. I chose “party”, “cyan” and medium temperature.

2. Checking in and out was easy and I was assigned a card to use for any purchases during your stay.

3. The room itself was reasonably comfortable if not massive. OK for a one night stay. The bed was really comfy.

4. The room controller has a lot of functionality, controlling among other things lighting, alarm, TV, blinds, and music. You could set it up to get some quite cool effects. Incidentally there was a 500 euro fine if you absconded with the controller.

5. The bar was good and the whole place seemed to be pretty busy.

6. The food quality was good

7. It was quite engagingly quirky, although I’m not sure about Marvin the hotel mascot, who appears in each room

Bad stuff:

1. The toilet was curiously exposed, although you could pull the doors around it closed. It just felt a bit wierd, that’s all.

2. The sink was small and awkward to use

3. Oh dear, the shower! In order to get the water flowing, you had to close the doors but when you got inside, you had to endure 10 seconds of cold water hell until the shower got up to temperature. The shower also had a rather serious leak.

4. Although the food was of good quality, the choice was limited and to get a hot meal you had to use a microwave cooker.

5. Am I being stingy but 116 Euro for one night doesn’t seem like “low cost” to me?

Overall, I’m not sure I’ll go back for more. Certainly not until they fix the shower – it really was a maddening experience and you can almost hear the conversation about not wanting to spoil the room design with a different, more useable shower arrangement. Innovator’s Sweet Spot Verdict: Near Miss.

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Successful Sporting Innovation and, shock horror, it’s British

Back from my vacationing now and kicking the blog back into life. While on my hols, I’ve been avidly watching the Olympics and I have to say, from the Brit point of view there has been a beacon of innovation in the shape of the Great Britain Cycling Team. Just over 12 years ago in 1996, GB cycling was an international joke but now, after an admittedly large cash injection, some really strong strategic management, focused implementation efforts, inspired coaching and leading edge technology innovation (basically anything which could give a proven time saving), GB cycling is the force in world track cycling. UK Sport set various targets for British sporting teams going into the Beijing Olympics; the cycling team was tasked with delivering a higher than average 6 medals. In the end the cyclists won 14 medals; eight golds, four silvers and two bronze medals. Not only that but there were some fantastic breakthrough performances from young riders such as Stephen Burke and Jason Kenny which shows the system is really working and gets me excited about things going even better in London 2012. There has been a lot in the press, questioning why other sporting teams such as the GB athletics team can’t deliver the same type of transformation, unfortunately these sports are still being run by paid amateurs for now. Anyway, regardless of this, I think Dave Brailsford and his team have really hit the sporting innovation sweet spot. What an inspiring innovation example!

Just as a reminder, here’s a picture of Bradley Wiggins winning the individual pursuit. Apologies to non-Brit (especially Australian) readers.

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Innovative organisations can still get it wrong

July 26th, 2008 | Category: Consumer centred,Opinions

I saw this article in Fast Company about P&Gs sustainability approach and I thought it illustrated a common situation – the company organises itself and thinks in one way and the consumer thinks in another way. When this happens who is right? A clue to the answer is in the P&G matra “the consumer is boss”. The article takes P&G to task over their “illegal” chemicals while covering the subject of sustainable products. For P&G, these subject areas are very different, for a typical consumer they are the same. If an “innovative”, consumer focused business like P&G has this problem in aligning it’s corporate mindset to the consumer, what’s happening for everyone else?

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Create a platform for your future product innovation

July 24th, 2008 | Category: Innovation direction,Innovation tools,Opinions

When setting out to deliver new breakthrough product offerings to your market, I have found that a key first step is to construct a picture of your current business, market and offer. By taking stock of your current situation in a multi-dimensional way you can set an innovation context to help you target future opportunities in a more effective way.  

When I work with my clients to create market breakthrough products, because I’m often new to their business and I need to get up to speed quickly, I run through a discussion guide covering all aspects of the innovation space available to their business in future. Of course, depending on the client business I will tailor the questions to suit but the overall structure for my interview is broadly shown in this diagram:


My first area of focus is around Business Direction, Processes and Value Model. The key areas I probe here are:

Values, Culture and Leadership:

  • What principles form the basis for behaviours within the organisation and, more specifically, what are the key criteria which provide the basis for prioritisation decisions? I will probe this area by referring to specific examples from the company’s innovation history.
  • Where does the key drive for innovation come from within the organisation? For example, is innovation initiated most commonly in sales, manufacturing or R&D?
  • What is the attitude to risk? Is decision making based on gaining consensus or through personal accountability?
  • How engaged is senior management in innovation activity?
  • What type of innovation mindset does senior management have? E.g. when they say they want a “break-though” do they really mean it?
  • How does the business Mission Statement relate to this innovation challenge?

 Business Processes, Financials, Business Model and Network: 

  • What product development process does the company operate?
  • What processes does the company follow to build its capabilities? E.g. recruitment, research, manufacturing, commercial, marketing and sales.
  • What processes does the company follow to generate revenues?
  • What other partners operate in the value chain and what are their financial investment and rewards?
  • Who are the key partners and suppliers?
  • How is the organisation funded?
  • What is the attitude to capital spending and valuation of assets? I probe around tangible assets and intangible assets (e.g. IP)

My second area of focus is the Market:

Market structure:

  • Who does the client sell their product or service to?
  • Who uses the product?
  • What does the market landscape look like? How does the client segment their market?
  • What is the geographic scope of the current market?
  • Who are the other stakeholders in the success of the product or service?

Category and brand values:

  • How does the client define their market category?
  • What does the client think the key considerations are for this category?
  • What does the client’s brand mean to consumers or customers in the category?
  • Given the current brand and category, how open to new products or services might the current consumer base be?
  • How are consumers and customers using the client’s product or service? What are the key consumer or customer problems that the product solves?
  • What are the underlying consumer or customer insights that form the basis for the product or service?

My final area of questioning is around the current Offering and Competitors:

Technologies, performance, value and context:

  • What technologies and capabilities are key to the client’s current competitive position?
  • Which areas of product or service performance are currently most important to consumers and customers?
  • What is the current pricing structure?
  • Are there critical considerations which might limit innovation such as surrounding infrastructure and large capital investments either by the client or their partners?

 The competition: 

  • Who is the main competitor?
  • Which competitor has the best-in-class performance?
  • Is there a key limitation which all products in the category suffer from?
  • Is there any competitor IP or other prior art which might limit future innovation? 

I’ve found this discussion guide to provide a very effective foundation for innovation. Due to the broad scope of the format, it brings out a comprehensive picture of the total innovation territory. It has often sparked some very useful discussion and has even generated fresh insights for the client.

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Open Innovation – a Solution Provider’s tale

July 22nd, 2008 | Category: IP,Open Innovation,Opinions,Problem solving

A while ago I posted an article about the three leading Open Innovation marketplaces (a.k.a. Ideagoras) but in that post, I didn’t shed much light on what the process felt like from the perspective of a Solution Provider. I’ve now submitted two proposals in answer to RFPs from Nine Sigma and eventually, after quite a bit of initial interest, I have received feedback that neither proposal is suitable for their clients. I’d like to share a bit more about these proposals with you in the hope that my learning experience might be useful if you ever decide to enter the murky and strangely disconnected world of the Solution Provider.

Proposal 1: an automotive transmission lock. I teamed up with an automotive gearbox technology company and we identified a novel transmission lock design which did not seem to be present in the prior art. I prepared a detailed patent document for the transmission lock and I filed the patent with the UK patent office within three days. I filed a patent specifically because of the policy on Nine Sigma around “non-confidential disclosure” of proposals. I prepared the proposal and the outline plan with my contact at the gearbox company and he submitted the proposal to Nine Sigma in early May. In total I put in about 4 days of work and my colleague at the gearbox company did about the same. We thought we had done a good job. Then we waited and we waited and we waited. Eventually, in the second week of July my contact received an email from Nine Sigma saying that the client thought the proposal was good but they didn’t believe that the solution was suitable for them. We didn’t get any more detail on exactly what didn’t work for the client.

Proposal 2: an improved catheter system. I analysed the problem situation using TRIZ and researched the prior art. Based on this work, I identified a conceptual solution which appeared to be novel and I tracked down a company based in Cambridge, UK with the necessary expertise to produce a proof of principle demonstrator. As in the previous proposal, I prepared a detailed patent document for the improved catheter system and filed it on-line with the UK patent office. I prepared a proposal to Nine Sigma and sent it off in early June. This time, I didn’t have to wait so long. I received confirmation from Nine Sigma in the second week of July that, following an initial screening meeting with their client, excitingly, they were interested in my proposal. My excitement soon dissipated, however, as over the next two weeks I received and answered 9 increasingly incomprehensible e-mails asking about various functional aspects of my proposal, questioning if the idea was indeed unique and implying that I hadn’t applied for a patent after all. By the time Nine Sigma said that their client thought the new technology would take too long to develop and so had decided not to proceed, I was actually quite relieved.

So, where has this left me in my burgeoning career as a Solution Provider? Actually, a little more positive than you might have thought. At least I got feedback on my proposals. I’ve spoken to others who have now given up answering RFPs from Nine Sigma because of the lack of feedback. So on my experience, there’s improvement there. In terms of the communication gap which I experienced, now I know what to expect, I’ll be ready for it next time. In fact, I’ve been looking through the list of new RFPs and I’ve already lined up another couple to have a go at. Meanwhile, if I get a good search report on Proposal 2, I think it could well have legs and it may well find its way onto


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New ways to measure your level of innovation

July 21st, 2008 | Category: Innovation direction,Managing Innovation,Opinions

I’ve recently picked up in a Strategy and Business Innovation blog called and on Business Week that the old chestnut of whizzy ways to measure how innovative you are has come up again. This time, however, rather than a complex formula being promoted by an expensive and flashy Boston-based management consultancy, the proposal has come from good old British NESTA. They claim that the usual measures of innovativeness (is that a word?) related to R&D spend and number of patents are off the mark for financial institutions and other service based businesses (of which the UK economy has a quite a lot) and want to implement a range of measures related to training, organisational change and an industry-based “peer review in which company executives both help to define the innovation indicators and rate each other”. Hmm, well I reckon we’re all pretty innovative, don’t you agree chaps? Let’s give ourselves all a five out of five on that one.

I’m probably being hopelessly simplistic and niaive, but what’s wrong with some kind of vintage measure to assess innovation – you know, % of sales from products/services launched in the last year. You might need to set up some criteria to help define the word “new” but I reckon that’s a lot better than some kind of dodgy old boys club peer review. I think output measures are most useful when you’re trying to assess your true innovation impact, after all, if it doesn’t hit the bottom line, how can it really be innovation?

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An interview with myself

July 12th, 2008 | Category: Open Innovation,Opinions,TRIZ

I was recently asked to answer a few questions on the Innocentive Open Innovation blog Perspectives of Innovation. As someone who shamelessly enjoys talking about myself, I thought it would be a good use of resources if I published it on my own blog too, so here goes…

1) Tell us a little bit about your background.

Originally I trained and was educated as a Mechanical Engineer. I’ve worked in the innovation area all the way through my career starting on design and projects and gradually moving further up to the front end. For the last 21 years I’ve worked for Mars Inc. until in May this year when I left to set up my own Innovation Consultancy, CoCatalyst Limited, helping clients who need market breakthrough products to target and implement new technologies. I have recently started a blog on this topic ( and I intend to use this to promote the latest thinking in the area. In my last role at Mars my team was responsible for identifying and bringing in new technologies for the Mars Drinks business, covering a very broad scope including packaging, food science, functional ingredients, electronics and control as well as mechanical engineering. I continue to be very passionate about innovation and I have expertise in a number of key innovation tools, probably one of the most relevant to solving Innocentive challenges being TRIZ.

2) How did you come across InnoCentive?

I came across InnoCentive as a potential solution seeker at Mars. At that time the cost of entry was too high for me to pursue. From what I’ve learnt recently about InnoCentive the business model has since changed significantly. I came into closer contact with InnoCentive more recently when preparing to present to a UK Government body on Open Innovation marketplaces.

3) What kinds of Challenges are you most interested in?

I am most interested in challenges which require a significant breakthrough. I am attracted to problems which, from a TRIZ perspective, jump out at me as analogous to problems I have solved before (upwards of 150 and counting with 50+ patents to my name) or where I can clearly understand the limitation (contradiction) of the current state of the art. This helps me to get a feel for the sort of benefit I might be able to deliver if I can resolve the problem. The other factor I will consider almost immediately is do I know someone in this area who I could team up with. I have a big network with contacts in many industries. For this reason, I do not restrict myself to a specific technological field – I think the “Disciplines” menu gets in the way a bit for me although I appreciate others will find it helpful. Also, for the same reason, I would like to be able to see all the challenges in the regular weekly updates I get. Another thing that can put me off a challenge is when the seeker constrains the solution to a potentially non-optimal outcome (e.g. to specify that something new should be added to the problem rather than resolve the root problem). I’ve seen this happen a number of times on Innocentive and, in fairness, on Nine Sigma too – it bugs me when I come across this sort of solution limiting thinking.

4) You recently wrote on your blog, “I haven’t actually answered any Innocentive Challenges although I have recently seen one that I might have a go at.” Can you tell us about the Challenge you want to answer, and what piqued your interest?

I’ve had a look at a couple of the ideation challenges, one for more energy efficient air conditioning (INNOCENTIVE 6237014) because a breakthrough solution could have a big impact, another one around reducing the energy needed to fire ceramics (INNOCENTIVE 6446157) and one to do with increasing the cooling effect of clothing in hot conditions (INNOCENTIVE 6470343). This one appeals because I’m a cyclist! I guess a common theme here is they all are to do with heat transfer.

5) What do you think are the biggest opportunities for Solvers in this new era of Open Innovation?

For individual solvers I need to start my answer with a caveat: if solver’s rights can be protected through the Open Innovation processes then their biggest opportunities are in being able to bring their capabilities to the attention of big companies, in ways which can be properly mutually beneficial. For larger companies acting as solvers the opportunity is to grow the market for their technologies by making cross-industry connections.

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