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Open Innovation in Science and Technology – do you have the right people for the job?

There have been many recent articles about the virtues of adopting an Open Innovation (OI) strategy and the benefits that can be realised through increased integration of internal and external talent and knowledge, especially in the R&D units of science and technology companies. However, these companies have tended not to focus on the role that individuals’ skills and competencies play in delivering the cultural and operational change required.

Transformation to an Open Innovation culture is a challenge for any company. Where, traditionally, we have kept our ideas and knowledge firmly locked behind closed doors, OI encourages sharing and exploration of opportunities with external partners. Scientists and engineers, the core delivery agents of our R&D groups, now need to adopt a broader skillset.

Through our work within the pharmaceutical, consumer health and technology arenas, we have identified three key traits of high performing individuals from companies that are exploiting the value of OI:

  • Technical Expertise: supporting the core science and technology discoveries and enabling technology integration across functions

  • Business Acumen: understanding the opportunity for growth and profit at the company and business unit level and also for the partners

  • Personal Attributes: building relationships and stimulating trusting environments with external collaborators

Technical Expertise

There is still a need for internal R&D capabilities. Indeed, without a strong understanding of the underlying science and technology, and its use to stimulate innovation with partners, few companies will gain from an OI culture. Fortunately, we commonly find a wide selection of talented scientists already working in R&D groups, so releasing some resource for Open Innovation activities is normally not an issue for those companies that are truly serious about change.

It is important, however, that our Open Innovation scientists and engineers are experienced individuals, and have developed the capability to work across functions, sectors and disciplines and are motivated to become technology integrators as well as technology discoverers.

Business Acumen

In the past, scientists have been expected to concentrate on solving science and technology problems. As a result, they are less exposed to the commercial aspects of our businesses, much as our commercial colleagues are often detached from the science. This narrow exposure has left a gap in their capabilities and experience that needs filling.

Whilst we would not expect our scientists and engineers to conduct full commercial due diligence activities (we should be using our established business development groups for this), they should possess sufficient commercial awareness to understand how the business will benefit from Open Innovation activities and be able to maximise these as a part of their daily activities.  Key capabilities for business acumen include:

  • translating external technologies into internal revenue generating opportunities

  • balancing risk with common sense in order to bring products to market more quickly

  • recognising options for exploiting internal IP and know-how externally

  • promoting external reputation and attracting new partners by becoming an ambassador for the company.

Open Innovation, however, also requires personalities that are quick in identifying and understanding opportunities, assessing the technology and value and then closing the deal.

Personal Attributes

Together, the established knowledge of science and technology coupled to a level of business acumen will position companies to start on the path to realising the benefits of an Open Innovation culture, but without the people-focussed skills that build and enable trust within collaborations, an Open Innovation approach will still not succeed.

Typically, there are four dimensions to personal attributes, or the Open Innovation personality:

  • personal initiative and drive in a broad range of activities and situations – behaviours such as spending additional energy at work and demonstrating stamina in the face of Open Innovation barriers and resistance

  • proactive personality – self starters and persistent individuals that translate intentions into goal-directed behaviours efficiently

  • questioning mind-set – continually asking if tasks should be better executed internally or externally to capture the benefits of faster, cheaper and better

  • teamwork and leadership – promoting the company as an equitable partner of choice and engaging with others to stimulate the uptake of Open Innovation throughout all levels of the organisation and externally

The challenge lies in developing all three traits in single individuals

Ideally, individuals would possess a balance of all of the traits we have outlined above, but in reality, this is a rare mixture. Whilst companies, no doubt, will need to recruit new blood to drive the uptake of an Open Innovation culture throughout their organisations, they will also need to form small and focussed teams, built from people with complementary traits aligned to specific Open Innovation roles that behave as a single entity.

Only in this way, will science and technology companies be able to drive a cultural change throughout their own organisations, and those of their partners, that realises the full value of Open Innovation.

To order a copy of PA's Open Innovation survey report, please contact us now.

Mark Humphries
Product development and manufacturing
contact us now

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