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How Open Innovation is Speeding Up the Product Development Process

Two amateur product developers engaging in open innovation using laptops across from each other

Though it’s still far from a quick process, product development has come a long way over the last two or three decades. What was once an arduous process involving slow-moving manufacturing methods and seemingly endless bureaucratic entanglements has become faster than ever, thanks to a series of technical innovations and a new pro-business stance around the world.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal’s Bob Tita wrote an extensive article about the state of product development in the modern business world, and his reporting revealed one of the reasons behind this new wave of rapid product development.

Open innovation

One of the new ideas that Tita mentioned when discussing a company called First Build in Louisville, KY (which designs and builds kitchen appliances, selling products all over the world) was the concept of open innovation.

It’s a process in which the company reached out beyond its own Research & Development department and sought out ideas from their other, non-R&D employees, other business partners that they worked with, and even the consumers themselves in an effort to bring new ideas to the table more quickly.

Tita notes that in many cases, this process has shortened the product development process from years to months.

This is far from the only company engaging in open innovation, however. Outdoor outfitter REI is crowdsourcing its product development, and other product development organizations are following suit.

Origins of open innovation

The idea of open innovation stems from, perhaps not surprisingly, Silicon Valley, where many of the world’s greatest new ideas have come from over the last few decades. It emerged in the early 2000s, when many companies realized that the race to come up with new ideas and new products was moving so quickly that they didn’t have time to continue doing so through the normal channels that most businesses had gotten used to over the previous century.

What they needed was as much information and as many ideas as possible, and by expanding their net outside the traditional research and development they were doing, they were able to supercharge the innovation process.

Spreading idea of ideas

Open innovation didn’t take long to catch on at major companies all over the world.

At Airbus, for example, a company that specializes in aerospace manufacturing, 2016 saw the company beginning a new project based on building a cargo-carrying drone. The difference is that the designs for the drone came from over 425 different proposals from people who did not work for the company at all, let alone in their Research & Development department.

And in an open innovation situation, even weeding out design flaws is a shorter process than normal. That’s because a company is more likely to discard or revise an idea presented to them by someone not connected with the company.

The idea of exposing flaws within an in-house design system is harder for a company to do than to simply take an idea that they have little investment or stake in and break down what works or what doesn’t about the idea.

It might sound like a bit of a cruel reality to those who participate in open innovation, but it’s undeniable that a more objective examination of ideas has significantly sped up the process of product development.

Working open innovation into existing systems

One of the most interesting wrinkles in the development of open innovation programs  is how some corporations have been able to maintain two different approaches to product development. 

Siemens, for example, the huge industrial conglomerate, has created two different tracks of development within their company with two different staffs. One is in the traditional research and development model, and the other is an open innovation approach, proving that there’s no need to abandon one idea in favor of embracing another one.

Want to learn more about how product design is evolving? Read “The Most Influential Product Design Trends on the Horizon.”

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