And apparently, three or four heads are better yet, particularly if those heads are coming at a problem from different directions. At least, that is the opinion of Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity. Open collaboration, he said, is becoming increasingly important. The value of collaboration is that it brings together creative minds that result in truly innovative ideas. And according to Leadbeater, the ability to find creative solutions is what sets apart companies that are true technology innovators from those that are simply solving technology problems. In an interesting talk about open innovation at the Schlumberger Information Solutions (SIS) forum in London this week, Leadbeater talked about history and innovation and identified some of the “myths” that surround the idea of innovation. One of the most common of those myths is that ideas come from lone geniuses. According to Leadbeater, the truth is that collaboration is generally the source of great ideas. “Innovation is like having a good conversation where ideas are generated.” It is rarely the result of a “Eureka moment,” he said, noting that most science today is done in virtual teams. According to Leadbeater, no matter the problem or solution, those who invent technology rarely know what they technology is for. That sounds a bit counterintuitive, but Leadbeater supplied some examples that illustrated his point. One was the i-Phone. The inventors of the phone wanted to create an interactive communications device. Users, however, determined what the real value of the phone would be when they discovered applications (a.k.a. “apps”) they could download. The enormous demand for apps has translated into big business. According to Leadbeater, the apps business has generated far more revenue than the phones themselves. And apps are only the beginning. The phone is the gateway to a “cornucopia of products,” he said. And that long list of products will take form when end users decide what additional things they want from the device. “Time and again, it is at the intersection of the product and the consumer where the value and application of an idea occurs,” Leadbeater said. Outsiders are an essential part of the innovation process. Consumer innovators adapt, modify, develop, invent, and apply technologies. Through this process, he said, they show producers what technology is for. Some completely new ideas are generated by collaborative efforts, but others are the result of simply combining existing technologies, he said giving wheeled luggage as a simple example. “The wheel has been around a long time,” Leadbeater said, and people have been carrying luggage for hundreds of years. Yet it wasn’t until someone came up with the idea of putting the wheels on the luggage that the world saw wheeled bags. Now, Leadbeater said, an airline passenger can’t travel without seeing them everywhere. Clearly, innovation and collaboration take many forms, but regardless of the situation, Leadbeater said, open innovation broadens the realm of problem solving. Today, open innovation incorporates contributors from different companies, different disciplines, and different backgrounds, often in a Web-based setting. Open collaboration is the first step in a process, according to Leadbeater. “We’ve only just begun to use the Web,” he said, explaining that the scope and power of the Web will bring many changes. “It will become more versatile, more ubiquitous, and at the same time, more personal.” And the resulting changes that will take place are not even imaginable today he said. The search for solutions is moving rapidly forward, and the means of finding solutions is changing. Like it or not, collaboration is the wave of the future. And those who learn how to pursue open innovation will be the ones who set the pace in the future, Leadbeater said. Given the number and scope of the innovative solutions presented and discussed at the forum, I’m inclined to agree.
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