The Problem with Open Innovation

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” – Brene Brown, researcher, best-selling author

open innovation gone wrongMy family and I recently stopped for dinner in a small town, on our way back from a weekend adventure – a bit of vacation and time racing cars at the race track. The restaurant had run out of napkins, and somebody with a creative, innovative mind made the effort to tear pieces of paper towel from the bathroom and then write the name of the restaurant on every single piece.

Beautiful creativity open innovation – but also horrible and not what their brand is all about. If you’re going to go through such a painstaking effort, at least cut the paper properly, and write neatly. This was just awkward and weird.

Someone made a mistake in not ordering enough napkins – fine.

Someone had a passion to fix the problem – fine.

But they didn’t have the filters about appropriate innovation and made the situation worse.

In this particular case, this well-meaning person would have been better off with just pieces of paper towel, without the writing.

Now, the problem isn’t with the person – they did the best they could, and their initiative is actually quite impressive. A culture of open innovation is great. However, it can go horribly wrong if management doesn’t provide context, proper guidelines, training, and oversight for what makes the brand effective.

Open Innovation in Context

You want people to be creative and to innovate but they first need to understand the bigger picture, the strategy and the brand – and have the parameters, tools and training to do their best work, in a way that ensures the customers get what we intended.

It’s also important to leverage good ideas and have forums or opportunities for this creativity to be put to work. I never would have come up with that idea! This speaks to a different kind of mind that could be highly valuable.

The Challenge

  1. Think about the areas of your business where you are under-utilizing people’s ideas. Areas where people have had  creative ideas and, with some guidelines and context, could come up with better ideas and ways to improve your business.
  2. Where are people innovating in ways that, in their view of the word, looks brilliant – but based on the business’ bigger picture, are horrific?
  3. Where are the handwritten logos on napkins in your business?