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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Making Your Organization Understand Open Innovation

A Lesson from General Mills

by Stefan Lindegaard

Making Your Organization Understand Open InnovationChanging organizational culture is one of the most difficult tasks when it comes to open innovation. What can you do? Well, General Mills gave a great example at the recent CoDev conference. By sending more than 20 people to the conference, they sent a strong signal - internally as well as externally - that they are committed to open innovation.

I really liked this move and thus I did an interview with Mike Antinone, who is Sr. R&D Manager, Connected Innovation in General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, in order to get a better understanding on this.

What made you decide to send this delegation to CoDev?

We had two main reasons for sending our GWIN team to CoDev this year. The first was really around team building. We have added several new team members as we expand our global innovation entrepreneur program and we wanted to have some time away from the daily demands of the office to foster an added sense of community.

The second area for us was to collectively learn and leverage the insights and best practices of other open innovation leaders represented at the conference and then create a plan of action to determine how we can best incorporate those insights and practices into our group.

What were the objectives?

We feel great about the progress that we have made with our Connected Innovation program, but we also wanted to put some serious thinking into "Next Practices" - those practices that we will need in the future to drive our program ahead and distance ourselves from competitors. We did not want to just go and listen, take notes, have a quick discussion then go back to our daily routine. Our goal was to create tangible action steps that we would incorporate into our development plans for our program.

We began our preparations about six to eight weeks before the conference. We divided the group into four teams with each team being responsible for a given topic. We chose to focus on three key objectives for our company. These were:
  1. Driving profitable growth through Connected Innovation

  2. Creating and leveraging more successful partnerships

  3. Driving Connected Innovation throughout our company

Each team then created a list of questions they wanted answered about how we as innovation entrepreneurs could dramatically impact the three objectives outlined above. Our goal was to collect as many facts as possible.

The fourth team set up a series of networking opportunities, both before and after the conference to provide stimulus for answers to our questions. Some of those networking opportunities included:
  • Smaller match-making events at the conference. We prearranged a series of discussions with conference participants. We met during breaks, at lunch, etc. to engage in a dialog about areas we wanted to advance and grow as an organization.

  • Utilization of CoDev LinkedIn site. We posted several questions on the LinkedIn site to gain additional insights and make connections

  • We also made sure we had prepared germane questions for each of the speakers to ensure we were tapping into their area of expertise.

Our team stayed in Scottsdale an extra day after the conference ended to have a working breakout session to summarize our key findings and to create an action plan going forward. During this session, we created list of "we-should" statements in our breakout sessions that were then reduced to three major areas of focus for each category as we continue to develop our program.

Which lessons have you learned so far?

It was very powerful to have our entire group at such a stimulating event. We had many opportunities to interact with each other, build on what we heard, and engage thought leaders with differing points of view. The conference provided us with a great opportunity to assess our program, consider new elements and chart a course as we continue our Connected Innovation journey.


I am impressed. Such an initiative can anchor open innovation in your company as it provides a great opportunity to build a common language based on what the team learned at the conference. This can really help develop the next practices of open innovation at General Mills.

Can you talk your executives into this kind of commitment?

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Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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