Early in the month of April, 2010, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), an independent body on innovation in the United Kingdom announced the top 100 global winners of open innovation. NESTA organized the "Open 100" competition in order "to find global companies and organisations that excel at open innovation and exploit the power of mass collaboration". People throughout the world were invited by NESTA to submit nominations for companies that best exhibit openness in the following five categories: open innovation, crowdsourcing, co-creation, open source and open business. The winner in the category of open innovation was McLaren.
In this post, we will look at how McLaren managed to become the champion of open innovation. It all started with an air traffic controller, Peter Tomlinson, in charge of all aircraft movements at Heathrow Airport in the UK. Peter was working on a project to predict flight landing times by mapping data-streams from aircraft flight plans, take-off times and other feeds such as the weather. While attending a workshop at McLaren's Technology Centre in Surrey, he observed that McLaren's proprietary software, used by pit-stop crews in Formula 1 racetracks to make split-second decisions, could be adapted to his project and achieve remarkable results. In a very swift manner, conversations between Peter's organization, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), and McLaren were initiated.
Many of the early conversations between NATS and McLaren were done with no contract or any non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed and this led to the quick start of the collaboration without any legal barriers. Very soon we will have the technology that will make it possible to predict the flight situation at airports just by typing in the flight numbers on our mobile devices. Thanks to openness! (Read more on the McLaren and NATS collaboration here.)
Stefan Lindegaard, in Chapter 1 of his upcoming book “The Open Innovation Revolution: Essentials, Roadblocks, and Leadership skills”, says that in the open innovation world, there are three types of organisations: the champions who are only about 10%, the contenders who are 30% and the pretenders who have a share of about 60%. The champions are able to obtain serious benefits from open innovation because they have mastered the discipline, while the contenders know the advantages of open innovation and try to utilize it but they are not in it fully yet. Finally, the pretenders do not really know what open innovation is all about. (Chapter 1 of Lindegaard's book is freely available and can be found here.)
In this era, organisations need a complete rethink on how they operate. Pretenders and contenders need to learn from McLaren (and other open innovation champions such as Procter & Gamble and General Mills), in order to become champions of open innovation themselves. Lindegaard suggests that pretenders (in order to move to the contender category) must first question whether open innovation can be of benefit to their company and whether it can be aligned with their overall corporate strategy; then define open innovation; and finally be willing to invest in educating their people about open innovation in order to change their mindsets and help them obtain the necessary new skills.
The Open Innovation Team
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