Over the past 17 years we have had the privilege to work inside the innovation kitchen of many companies and governmental organizations. We have seen over hundreds of models, platforms, approaches, methods and initiatives. Many are very clever ways to help innovate or accelerate innovation but only a few turned out to be wise from an ecosystem perspective. What is wisdom when it comes to ecosystem thinking and open innovation?

Very few organizations have a formalized innovation interface to the outside world, as we explained in this blog. A formal, well defined and designed innovation interface is essential for success. Research by the European Patent Office (EPO) shows that 25% of all R&D investments in Europe is wasted on duplication or in other words wasted on reinventing the wheel. A conservative estimate of around €80 billion per annum in Europe alone is lost on research and development on already existing insights and solutions. And if that data is only limited to companies that file patents, we can only imagine the potential at governments and NGO’s. In this blog we want to share our practical experience with regard to the Networked Innovation Champions model as an example of a solid practice in open innovation.

The original Networked Innovation Champions model was developed around 2010 with AkzoNobel. The direct reason was the observation by the CTO that much work was duplicated around the globe in AkzoNobel spread-out R&D centers. When deciding the best approach to tackle this reinventing the wheel problem, the organization had the option to choose between an IT oriented approach or, as we call it, a human centric approach. By choosing this route, a unique model was developed with fabulous results.

The core of the model can be summarized by a combination of a peer-to-peer network and a so called ‘problem broadcasting model’. A group of 25 experienced R&D scientists from over 130 laboratories worldwide where selected and trained as ‘Networked Innovation Champions’ (NIC). The training and support existed of teaching these experienced researchers on the proper articulation of innovation need statements, on the process for disseminating and providing feedback on the proposed solutions for these relevant needs. The NIC-role is a formalized role. As a consequence, the NICs get time allocated to do the work and are rewarded and recognized for their work. On a tactical level, the NICs actively scouts within their organization for relevant innovation needs. Mostly triggered by the start of a new R&D project or the start of an R&D related investment like e.g. a technology development project. A great example from those early days was a need that the NIC in the R&D team in Singapore identified. The R&D group was ordering the development of a sensor by a partner that could measure certain variables in process. Through proper need articulation and exclusive distribution to the other 24 NIC’s, a solution came out of one of the other R&D teams in Europe. Apparently, the sensor had already been developed a few years back by that team and within 2 days, the team in Singapore not only had access to a solution but was also saving $400.000 in development cost and a huge amount of time. Due to the fact that only experienced R&D colleagues are selected for the NIC role and getting them connected in the training sessions, the innovation needs get identified with and matched with solution options within days.

The results are truly impressive! On average, every need that is shared within the NIC network receives around 10 answers from the other NICs. For the 130 needs that were broadcasted in the first two years of the program, over 80% were solved internally with the NICs identifying the solutions. For the remaining 20% of the needs AkzoNobel used the eternal broadcasting and scouting process.

Are you also curious if your organization is fit for a ‘Networked Innovation Champions’ model? Then have a look at our flyer for more information and reach out to us, we look forward to the conversation.

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rick wielens

Rick Wielens