Focus and Goals

An open innovation process does not necessarily convey an already visualized end solution or product. Those are normally established or developed throughout the process – with the use of Q&A, brainstorming sessions, discussions, etc. Having a specific and well defined challenge is important to carry out a productive and uncomplicated process and obtain the best results.

The following tips will help you estipulate in a clear way your challenge:

  • The challenge: Start describing it in broader terms and gradually move onto more specific details. The more specific your challenge is, the better others understand it and the better feedback you will obtain. More feedback is not always better feedback.

  • Summarizing: Describe your challenge as if you are telling a story. Setting a frame around the whole process is very important.

  • Ideas equal solutions: Not all ideas solve problems but many do. Specify which ideas are necessary to approach your challenge. This will keep the process focussed on targets.

  • Online, offline, or both: How should the communication process take place? Collecting and discussing ideas works well online. Implementation of ideas needs some stronger commitment and is mostly better done offline.

  • Achievement: Lay down where you want to get. Think in terms of a procedural or cultural goal rather than outlining what a successful solution might look like. Be realistic but also open. It is open innovation after all.

  • Incentives: Boosting participation and motivation dictates how much knowledge you want participants to share. Bonuses and recognition are forms of incentives. A combination of awards will attract the most participants and get them to share more ideas.

  • Potential resistance: You will never be able to predict everything in advance, but studying other projects that have used similar methods may show you how to avoid resistance.

  • Participants: Choose. The world is open and yours. Specific skillsets, experts, public in general, specific community, international, local, staff, customers, etc. can all bring the best ideas to your door. Think big if you work online as there is no limit for participants.

The point of incentives is very crucial. Right from the beginning think of the question: Why would people participate? If your answer is “because it is part of their job to do so,” then you will most likely end up where you have started the process. The decision of a company, a department or a person to go down the route of open innovation is about implementing a new way, a way forward. And to get people to move into a new direction it is important to get them out of their comfort zone, to motivate them. Therefore, incentives play an important role in open innovation processes right from the start. In most studies it is shown that prices and money are far smaller incentives than reputation and recognition by other participants. Anyone likes to be recognized for their achievements.


"We want to feel like we have made an impact in the world around us. This is the strongest motivator. We participate in a community because we feel we matter in that community. We feel we make a difference".

Richard Millington, Founder of the online community consultancy Feverbee



Making sure that participants receive attribution for their thoughts is far more valuable because it triggers intrinsic motivation. Once the proposed ideas are implemented they will receive real feedback for change, creating yet more impact. It is key that these processes have an impact so that all participants really have the feeling it was worth the effort. Too often open innovation contests are focused solely on public relations and less on the ideas itself. Ideas have to develop and that is why a major part of open innovation is about the collaboration around ideas. Sometimes the “losing” ideas, when given a fresh set of eyes, in the long run become great ideas as well.

A voting phase at the right moment can lead to significantly higher participation if contributors have to promote their ideas. Sometimes a private collaboration phase is necessary, during which a person or group can evaluate and go through ideas in private before exposing them to the public for feedback. Good timing, scheduling, and phasing are equally important to have a good sequence and not get deviated. At last, keeping the process under a narrow time frame helps getting enough attention from all participants. If the process extends over too long a period of time participants lose focus.

Open innovation is a journey that needs a fair amount of flexibility. As mentioned above, open innovation processes need to be planned from A-Z, but it is important to bear in mind that during such – needless to say, open and innovative – processes the ideas can not be planned or anticipated. The ideas can flow in all directions; but, on the other hand, they can be managed or shaped to suit our needs. Trying out different ways is the key to finding out what works and what not.


>> Ch. 10 Mobilization