Throughout this past year, I’ve talked with several Innovation Specialists nestled inside large corporations, hustling to bring new products to market as quickly as possible. These corporations have plenty of funding for research, plenty of resources for innovation, and oh, yeah… plenty of red tape. Miles and miles of red tape and processes that can bring any innovative thought to a screeching halt. In most corporations, that’s exactly what happens. In all the rest—it creates long, expensive, and painful innovation.

Yesterday’s Way No Longer Works

Historically, companies have clung to the belief that they were the only ones that knew their customers. They could best articulate their customer’s personas. They were the smartest at innovating on their own. To some degree, this was true when innovation was at a slower pace and competition was not as intense as it is now, especially in the consumer arena.

But today, tight consumer markets are forcing change in innovation strategies. Companies now share personas with their competitors. They can no longer assume that only they can provide a customer’s “next best thing”. Consumers have more choices than ever before and an insatiable hunger for quick acquisition. Brand loyalty is often diminished as end users purchase an equivalent product faster.

This constant need for rapid innovation feels daunting to many companies even within some of the biggest brands we know. If they stop innovating the “next”, they could be forced to close their doors. If they settle to be the best “Us Too” producer, they might be safe, but they could lose their position as the innovative leader in the market with the “next best thing”. The options for speedy innovation methods are limited inside the walls of an organization. Many of these companies are welcoming the idea of Open Innovation partnerships.

Speed to Market is Everything

What exactly is Open Innovation (OI)? According to Henry Chesbrough, the Director of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California Berkeley, “It is the use of purposeful inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate innovation internally while also expanding the markets for the external use of innovation.” I define OI as an organization utilizing outside resources to achieve innovation goals faster and without corporate restraints.

As a Discovery Team Lead at DISHER, I have the privilege of leading companies through OI with quality, timely outcomes. Organizations that are looking for an OI partner should choose a firm that listens and understands what they want, specializes in agile innovation, and has cross-functional experience. With OI, companies set their goals and leave behind the restrictions and distractions of their internal processes. The result? Companies experience innovation turnaround in just a week or two compared to their in-house process of months to maybe even years.

Here’s How OI Works

1. Companies allow their OI team to help define the customer pain point(s) being addressed/solved: Many companies claim to know their end-user’s pain points, but in reality, they are pain points generated from their own filtered perspective. To ensure the best product solutions, pain points should be identified by both the company and the OI team. The OI team will conduct insightful research outside the company’s own research assets, consider current competitors, and benchmark other related industries and trends. The more specific the pain point is defined, the more successful the innovation process will be. Just innovating for something new may produce an idea, but that product might be the best shelf-eye candy there is—meaning, no one will buy it.

2. Companies must start with the whole team: Innovation is often considered the fuzzy-front-end of product development with designers and ID teams who listen to user feedback and carefully and skillfully design beautiful products. But then their work gets handed off to engineers where the design elements might be ignored or dismissed. The key to OI is to include your engineers, industrial designers, creative directors, and even your manufacturing experts into the OI work. To ensure speed to market, the system must remove the back-and-forth between design and engineering (and all the other small incremental steps in between). Having all your players on your team from start to finish can help alleviate this roadblock.

3. Companies must embrace compressed timelines: Having an intentional, compressed innovation timeline is the foundation of expedited innovation. A team that conforms to it is the secret sauce to success. Can companies go from an Innovation Workshop to a low-fidelity prototype within a week including some consumer feedback thrown in? Most companies would think that to be nearly impossible. But yes, it is possible! However, you must have a team that is dedicated to the intense process and is trained to power through it!

4. Companies must embrace research and input gathered outside the company’s R&D walls: There are so many benefits to having an OI team develop, conduct, and report-out on customer pain points. OI teams will look outside expected or associated industries and far-reaching and global competitors, and they will tap into the expertise of people who experience the pain point(s) at an intimate level. All of this with a non-existent bias that could lead a company to a possible breakthrough solution.

5. Companies must allow their OI partner to lead the process even when it might feel like the train is coming off the tracks: Experts in accelerated innovation must have a proven process that is followed to be successful. Failure is not an option, audibles happen, and there can be significant shifts during Innovation sessions. A trained and ready team can handle significant pivots without losing much speed or intensity. They can push through and work within constraints and boundaries to ensure that the ideas generated solve the customer pain point.

We have worked with organizations of all sizes (Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and entrepreneurs) and have seen OI work firsthand. Our customers value the accelerated speed to market and ability to stay competitive and ahead of the curve. The DISHER team is always thrilled to walk through retail stores and see products that resulted from our open innovation partnerships. In addition to the foundational components listed above, we also have a cross-functional team of 100+ people, most of whom are engineers, that are unique specialists in consumer pain points and product possibilities. Contact us if you are interested in OI today.