making open innovation platform work

Even the mightiest multinational corporations are recognizing the limits of learning about new ideas from within the corporate boundary.   Many of them have gone on record that in the near future, they expect more than 50 per cent of new leads for products and services to come from outside the organization.  The ideas may occur to the supply chain members, vendors, customers and a whole range of other stakeholders.  And yet, when it comes to public institutions, they still hesitate in involving the users of their services and products to become part of their innovation team.  The state governments and so also the Planning Commission at the central level often hire consultancy companies to seek ideas from the people who they can directly approach.  It seems the clothing of ideas is sometimes more important than the authenticity and richness of ideas.  The academic institutions are no exception.  In many cases, the chairman and the members of governing board believe that they are the owner of the organization and therefore the gatekeepers for deciding which ideas will go through and which not.  They don’t see their role in empowering the constituents, be the students or faculty or users of their academic services in generating and implementing innovative ideas.  In the autonomous institutions, faculty through their fortitude can in fact resist such tendencies and still persist with their ideas generally for the larger social good.  But, a vast majority may not have the courage to do so.  The good ideas become casualty because of bad norms of governance.

How do we ensure that in the years to come Indian society will become more and more open, tolerant, appreciative and nurturant of innovative ideas.  In the schools, large number of teachers are very authoritarian.  Many years ago,  I was going through the workbook of my younger son.  I noticed that teacher by oversight had corrected a para which actually had some mistakes.  When I tried to correct that, my son started crying.  I asked him the reason.  He felt that teacher could do no wrong and this correction might offend her.  I wrote a nice letter to the teacher explaining that given the pressure of correcting so many notebooks, it is possible that a few mistakes might go uncorrected.  It is in this spirit that I have suggested the correction and I would like her to assure the student, i.e., my son that such things were ok.   It worked alright.  But I am not sure openness to get feedback can be proactively nurtured as a part of educational culture.  I always tell my students that the questions I cannot answer are my real gain.  It is then that I am pushed to learn harder, better and farther.  And it is completely possible that teacher may not know the answers to all the questions.  For getting ‘A’ grade in my classes, the contract is that the student has to teach me something new, which I didn’t know before.  I am sure if we all try, we can create a culture where every one in authority, no matter in public or private organisations, will welcome not only feedback but also feedforward and corrections in one’s own ideas about shaping the future.

But, why do ideas don’t flow so easily?  There are several factors which influence the flow of ideas.  Acknowledgement, attribution, reciprocity and reward are the four main factors that may influence whether or not good ideas flow into the organization.  Many companies are very open to receive ideas but they would not like to put ideas in open source.  They don’t want to expand public domain.  But, by paying or rewarding the provider of ideas, some of them manage to attract some ideas.  However, the principle of cross pollination and overcoming anonymity of idea providers besides sharing any benefits that may accrue with or without value addition, created the foundation of Honey Bee Network philosophy about a quarter century ago.  I believe that these principles can indeed help any organization in creating openness for both receiving and sharing ideas that matter.  One is not expecting the private companies to not pursue proprietary rights in their intellectual property.  But when they take ideas from others, they give them the same respect as they give to their own ideas.  They should also recognize that merely by paying for ideas, the open innovation platform does not expand.  Creating public domain knowledge base and ensuring its access to the needy is fundamental to creation of an open society.  I hope that more minds will become open, tolerant, appreciative and nurturant of ideas of others, even if these are dissenting and too diverse from one’s own.