Some of you may have noticed elsewhere an announcement regarding the recent publication of “The Open Innovation Marketplace” by myself, InnoCentive co-founder, Alph Bingham, and InnoCentive CEO, Dwayne Spradlin. We wanted to communicate directly with you about this bit of news because you are an integral part of it. In this book, we often reference you and your contributions as we speak of a Solver population and the amazing capabilities of that network, punctuated with a few concrete examples.
But let’s back up and make clear that this book is not and was not intended to be “The InnoCentive Story.” Not that such a book shouldn’t be written — just that, this is not it. As Dwayne and I point out in the Afterword, “…there were a few areas …that we could not address sufficiently in the book. First was the desire to tell InnoCentive’s story from its founding to the present—and forward, to what might come next. Indeed the story is like no other, and is one that we love to tell … (and another missing piece) was the call for many more case studies telling the amazing stories of InnoCentive’s Solvers and their ingenuity and dedication in finding solutions to problems. … there is no doubt that we are at the center of a hotbed of activity that is shattering all the prior notions of how innovation happens, how organizations should access and manage talent, and why people do what they do. We observe and facilitate unbelievably inspiring stories of the power of crowds to do everything from accelerating industrial research, to imagining new business opportunities, to accelerating cures for neglected diseases.”
But of course the experiences of InnoCentive and the impressive stories of Solvers could not be neglected altogether, and we point out in the preface that: “As executives of InnoCentive, we have used our own business as a laboratory (italics added) for understanding open processes and for examining the way innovation is practiced by ourselves and our many customers and partners…”
In the spirit of a laboratory, we document Solver case studies involving the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, NASA and the Prize4Life foundation (which sponsored our first million dollar Challenge.) More importantly, we admonish executives to be mindful of the entire phenomenon we have witnessed and the incredible problem-solving power made evident by the InnoCentive Solver community. As we speak to senior leaders in general and to human resource departments in particular, we argue that, “The human resources department, along with the innovation functions, in a company practicing Challenge Driven Innovation recognizes their broader role in accessing talent. They realize that effective management of this resource involves both internal AND external (emphasis added) persons that can effectively contribute. They appreciate the fact that internal experts better understand the nature of the problem or need, that they comprehend “local” limitations and implementation concerns. But they also know that many times the best minds for a given (solution) lie outside the walls of the organization and they know the most appropriate mechanisms to find, enroll, and use those resources… (leaders) too readily equate commercial innovation with hiring innovators. Tapping into the enormous capacity of the long tail cannot be (effectively) done via the hiring process—and therefore cannot be part of closed innovation. It’s not that history isn’t full of stories of problems solved by innovations coming from the tail, of breakthroughs put forward by the tail. Some have been mentioned and will be mentioned again: patent clerks rewriting cosmology, telecom engineers predicting solar particle storms, weekend handymen contributing to environmental cleanup, and patent attorneys designing new routes to poly-carboxylic acids. But wait! Some of these examples are probably not a familiar part of your college coursework. That’s okay, they’re everyday experiences for those who help the world tap into this long tail of knowledge and expertise—and replace the logic of innovation scarcity with the logic of innovation plenty. And you’ll find each of those stories in this book.”
And while each of those cases is indeed referenced, Dwayne and I are aware of the many more that have NOT been told in this text. We’ve read and enjoyed each of the “I am a Solver” blogs wherein you’ve told your stories as well as via numerous emails and exchanges. We’ve told your stories too: at MIT, at TEDMED, at the Economist conferences and all around the world. And we will continue to do so. They impress not just our audiences but continue to impress us. And it’s not just the examples of those who have already been awarded bounties for their solutions. We continue to try and understand how our Solver community is collectively smart, how each member is a solution waiting to happen. We speak of these growing understandings in The Open Innovation Marketplace. But in your own words, as Solver Laurie Parker said in her “I am a Solver” blog post, “I’m not your typical Solver (Editor’s Note: none of you are)… I have been growing up in science along with InnoCentive. I first heard about it when it launched and I was an undergraduate chemistry student at the University of St. Thomas… I kept my eye on InnoCentive… (and) As I moved into postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago… I kept scanning new InnoCentive Challenges and started seeing more and more Challenges to which I felt I could contribute some actual expertise… and finally a Challenge came along that was right up my alley… different ways to think about making protein libraries… I was surprised and very excited to find out… I (had) won my first InnoCentive Challenge! …the money is great, but the real excitement is in the feeling of having contributed something useful that other people value.”
Let us say once again, “thank you.” And as we wrote in the Afterword, “These stories may well be the basis of the next book.”