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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Silos and Innovation - Break Down or Work Around?

by Stefan Lindegaard

Silos and Innovation - Break Down or Work Around?"How do you break down internal silos in order to improve at innovation? Open innovation - or any kind of innovation - suffers with silos. What are your insights and experiences on this issue?"

I posted these questions in the 15inno by Stefan Lindegaard group on LinkedIn about a month ago. We got 28 comments with lots of great advice. (Click on Discussions in the group if you want to read this). I have been looking through these comments a couple of times as I wanted to write a blog posts with an excerpt on this.

This has not yet happened and one reason is that I have begun thinking differently about silos and their impact on innovation.

Perhaps we do not have to break down silos to drive more innovation. Perhaps we should just accept the silos and work around the issues they can create on innovation. Perhaps open innovation will change things by itself.

Let me share some thoughts on this.

The smart people with drive and energy - and an interest in innovation - that I meet are most often attracted to great ideas and initiatives with a potential to really make a difference. Often, they do not care about the nitty-gritty kind of incremental innovation which proven and time-tested processes in silos also can take care of by itself.

We all know that corporate executives also crave for innovation that can really make a difference and as they begin to accept the loss of control and potential side-effects (check this blog post on open innovation side-effects) that are related to open innovation, it becomes easier for smart people from different parts of a company as well as for external partners to gather around the ideas that can really make a difference.

Why? A key reason is that we are getting more and more tools and solutions that allows us to innovate across corporate as well as industry boundaries. Just take a look at these initiatives: InnoCentive@Work, Intuit Brainstorm and Inno360. The latter is a software developer working with still un-identified open innovation leaders to develop the next generation open innovation platforms.

When corporate executives willingly accept more experimentation and a fair amount of failure on the innovation process itself, they will begin to understand that innovation delivers best when different business functions - and external partners - come together to develop products, services, solutions and processes that meet the needs of users and customers. This mindset change can be re-enforced by the above technology development.

We also have to remember that innovation can be radical in many different ways. It does not only apply to market approaches or technologies. Innovation can be just as radical with regards to the internal processes.

This is what this is really about and as with any kind of initiatives with a radical, disruptive or breakthrough potential, we need different approaches and setups that provides protection from the bureaucracy and corporate politics we have to deal with in any larger organization. So if companies really want to embrace open innovation, they will have to make organizational adjustments.

I believe this development will reduce silo-related obstacles on innovation although it will take several years before most companies reach this level of innovation maturity. Until then, it might still be relevant to check out the advice given in the LinkedIn discussion that inspired this post...

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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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