Archive for the 'open innovation' Category

GameChanger: Open Innovation through Angel Investing

Point: Create an internal venture fund to incubate revolutionary ideas.

Story: This week’s Innovation Summit at the Shell Technology Center Houston (STCH) highlighted the need for innovation and collaboration to solve society’s most pressing challenges. As the world’s problems become more complex, the best way to tackle them is with a cross-disciplinary approach.

What are some ways that companies can foster this multidisciplinary collaboration to achieve breakthrough innovation? One way is to create an open mechanism inside the company that solicits promising ideas regardless of where they come from — including outside the company — and offering seed funding that’s outside of the company’s traditional R&D programs to give them time to develop.


Shell is doing this with its GameChanger program, headed by Russ Conser.  GameChanger seeks out and invests in early-stage ideas that could potentially revolutionize the energy industry. GameChanger plays the role of an angel investor; a panel screens ideas and selects ones to fund. Idea submissions can come from any Shell employee as well as from outside the company.

Shell actively solicits ideas from academics and entrepreneurs alike through its web site  Ideas that pass the initial screen receive seed money — $25,000 to develop a robust proposal and on up to $500,000- $1 million a year to actually test and develop ideas that graduate into projects.


For example, Erik Cornelissen, a research scientist, was in a toy store looking for a gift for his nephews when he saw a science toy that many of us have seen before: a dinosaur that grows in size when placed in water. A nifty, fun gift. But Erik made a connection back to a perplexing problem that had plagued Shell and other oil companies for a long time. Specifically, oil wells contain water, not just oil. Over time, more and more water gets pumped up relative to oil.  Not only does that make the well less productive, but it pumps water that increasingly is becoming a scarce resource itself. The question is, how to detect that water and prevent it from mixing with the oil?

Erik realized that the same principle behind the dinosaur toy — a material that expands upon contact with water — could be applied at the oil well. Erik needed to identify a “swellable elastomer” that would seal off the pipe when water started to mix with the oil flowing through it. The idea was not difficult to articulate or explain, but finding this kind of material proved long and difficult. GameChanger provided Erik with the time and funding he needed to go through hundreds of experiments to find the elastomer that fit the demanding conditions at the oil well site.


About 40% of Shell’s core Exploration & Development R&D portfolio has evolved from ideas submitted to GameChanger, and 70% of the GameChanger portfolio includes collaboration with people outside of Shell.

Since its inception in 1996, GameChanger has funded 3000 ideas, investing $350 million and resulting in 250 commercial projects, said Gerald Schotman, EVP, Innovation, R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Shell.


• Publicize clear and explicit selection criteria, so external submitters know what you want and will fund.  For example, GameChanger uses 3 primary criteria:

  1. Novelty: is the idea truly and fundamentally new and different? (There’s no point in funding ideas that would qualify as traditional R&D projects.)
  2. Value: Could the idea create substantial new value if it works? (Wild ideas are welcome, but ultimately they need to deliver value if they come to fruition.)
  3. Credible Plan: is there a plan to manage risks prudently? (New ideas are risky, but many risks can be identified up front and plans can be put in place to stay ahead of them.)

• Have an end game for how you’ll commercialize an idea that demonstrates feasibility. For example, GameChanger uses 3 commercialization strategies:

  1. Move the idea into the company’s internal R&D portfolio.
  2. License the idea externally.
  3. Spin off a new company to bring the idea to market.

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Chesbrough on Open Services Innovation #WIFNY

Point: Provide customers with toolkits to help them create new products and services.

Story: I’m looking forward to hearing Henry Chesbrough, originator of the term “open innovation,” speak at the World Innovation Forum tomorrow.

In his latest book, Open Services Innovation, Chesbrough writes about co-creating with your customers, particularly in services where it’s harder for customers to specify what they want because so much of the experience is tacit.  Whereas innovative physical products can excel on objective measurable performance, innovative services often entail a greater degree of subjective perceptions.

What’s exciting for innovators is that precisely because the information is tacit, finding ways to elicit or manage that tacit information will bring strategic advantage.  One way that customers can “tell” you this tacit information is through their behavior, which in most cases is through their purchase and usage patterns. If customers have a good subjective experience, they do it again; if the service was bad, they don’t come back.  Yet passive observation can be hard to interpret, can miss a lot, and is better at providing feedback on existing offers than for creating true innovation.

A better solution is for companies to actively encourage open feedback and ideas from customers.  As Chesbrough says, “When customers tell you – rather than everyone else — their tacit needs, you have a unique insight that can help you differentiate yourself in the market.”  Companies that can find ways to engage customers to co-create — or that can create systems that elicit such tacit knowledge — accrue benefits. LEGO, the building-brick toymaker, is one such company.

LEGO created a software toolkit and online space for customers to create and share new designs that go far beyond what’s possible with the manufactured physical product.   The components of the toolkit and space include “LEGO Digital Designer” software, “My LEGO Network” for children, and a 4.2 million-member LEGO Club.  The social media elements, design contests and customer-created galleries let LEGO fans of all ages build and share ideas.

In turn, LEGO gains tacit information into what customers really want to build, which supports LEGOs product development efforts.  For example, LEGO got the idea to sell kits of leading architectural designs from around the world, such as the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater home. Not only were many of these designs created by users, but LEGO gained entry to a new market — adults — which it had not envisioned nor would have initiated internally.

What Chesbrough is talking about is a kind of meta-innovation — an innovation in the innovation process.  Open services innovation converts innovation from an internal process into an external service.  Providing customers with a toolkit for self-expression not only satisfies customers but also creates an incoming flow of tacit knowledge about customers and about new ideas that may be more widely implementable.


  • Watch the trail of breadcrumbs left by customers to uncover tacit knowledge and subjective performance indicators
  • Actively solicit feedback to understand why customers do what they do — and what they want you to do.
  • Create a toolkit or sandbox where customers can create their own products and services
  • Make innovation an external service your company provides to customers

Special thanks to Walden University for sponsoring the May 8, 2012 webinar with Henry Chesbrough as a prequel to his presentation at the World Innovation Forum.

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Arduino: A Tale of Innovation through Open Source

Point: A collectively-motivated group of peers can develop innovations in a distributed online environment.

Story: When Hernando Barragán created a nontechie-friendly microcontroller board for artists, designers, and architects in 2004, his thesis adviser, Massimo Banzi, liked the idea.  But Banzi wanted something simpler and cheaper for use in design class projects at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy.  In particular, Banzi wanted a low cost, an integrated software environment, programmability via an everyday USB port, and a project supported by a community.

So Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Dave Mellis, Gianluca Martino and Nicholas Zambetti created Arduino, an easy-make, easy-to-use circuit board about the size of a business card.  Anyone can use the device to create all manner of computer-controlled devices such as prototypes of products, pieces of art, or just fun hobbyist contraptions.  The team’s device was about 1/3 the price of the predecessor device and 1/3 the price of commercial products.  Best if all, the group released Arduino under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licensing, which means anyone can copy the Arduino and make the circuit board without payment or permission from the Arduino group.

The Arduino project uses open source methods to develop its hardware and software. Open source is a type of connected innovation based on the collective contribution of peer innovators to a project or product.  Open source allows free access to the internal design specification of the product such that anyone in the world can modify the design to correct a problem, improve performance, or add a new feature.  With this openness comes a cultural norm that if someone does improve the design, then they should share that improvement with the community for inclusion in the public version of the design.  Through this open process, Arduino now has 12 different models and 5 supplementary function boards.

Arduino, like other open source projects, relies heavily on connective technologies to coordinate its loose global team of project participants.  Email lists, online wikis, discussion forums, and content management systems help the project participants maintain the core product as well as developing new ideas that later become incorporated in the main products.  Arduino uses Google Code to host the project to provide a central connection point for anyone who wants the software.  People can report defects or suggest enhancements. Google’s tools help the project participants track the status, priority, and milestones of the idea.  Other tools aid collaborative problem solving.  The main Arduino discussion forum has nearly 70 thousand members and over 700 thousand posts on some 90 thousand topics.


  • Determine if there’s some technology that you (and others) need more access or control over than is permitted by commercial suppliers with proprietary products
  • Start an open source project to create and share the technology
  • Use connection technologies to link to distant contributors and coordinate activities
  • Pool innovation from across the technical and user community

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