Why Businesses Must Embrace Open Innovation

Why Businesses Must Embrace Open Innovation

By Nitin Rakesh, Published on December 11, 2020

For years, agile organizational structures and disruptive thinking was associated with small, new companies ‘lightweight’ enough to dare to be different. Not anymore. Even before COVID-19 brought along its extraordinary compulsions, technological advances, consumer power, and personalization were making it imperative for businesses to be more like startups—ready to regroup, rethink and re-strategize on the go.

But what the pandemic has done is accelerate this trend. With no business untouched by the new abnormal, past supply chain arrangements or global ops methodologies do not guarantee future relevance. That is why every company must also be ready to change its former approach to talent strategy.

Until now, it was common for organizations to view in-house talent as its primary pillar. Without putting too much thought into why, companies assumed one talent category could fulfil two opposite requirements: routine everyday work and out-of-the-box thinking.

But as we know now, this is next to impossible. The recent Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search study suggests up to 70 percent of successful ideas and solutions come from those who have nothing to do with a company’s primary focus. These outliers contribute some of the best ideas, ‘4-5 times faster and 10 times cheaper for the same or better-quality results’.

Let us take a closer look at how some well-known organizations have gone about reinventing talent strategy and what businesses can learn from them about implementing open innovation.

Solve complex problems through open challenges
Consider NASA. Widely known for its cutting-edge research and outstanding innovation, the premier space agency has had some of its toughest problems solved by rank outsiders with little to no background in space research. This includes the riddle it had been trying to solve on predicting the incidence of solar flares. With all the talent and resources at its disposal, NASA’s best brains could predict a solar storm only 1-2 hours in advance, and with just about 50 percent accuracy, until recently.

Now, considering how much havoc such explosions can wreak on space missions by throwing telecom networks and satellites out of whack, NASA needed a solution offering it a larger window of time to safely schedule its missions with higher accuracy.

This is when it decided to post the problem as an open challenge on a crowdsourcing platform, InnoCentive. The result? A retired radio engineer from rural New Hampshire sent in a winning algorithm to predict these large explosions in the sun’s atmosphere with 75 percent accuracy, up to 8 hours in advance!

If a domain as specialized as outer space research can have successful solutions coming in from non-specialists, then it is evident every field stands to gain from throwing open its talent strategies. Earlier, when technology was less advanced, it was far more difficult to leverage outside talent. But now, thanks to a plethora of virtual platforms and rich-media solutions, it is possible to effortlessly rope in innovative minds, irrespective of distance and difference of time.

Reinvent in-house collaboration
At Mphasis, we have used the tough new conditions set by the pandemic to revisit our open talent strategy. We are trying out a new talent model in-house—the uberized workforce. At its simplest, the model is a mechanism by which managers within Mphasis access people and skills across the company. Mphasis engineers, irrespective of where they are, their current business units, or roles, can be engaged on a part-time basis on projects outside their domain responsibilities.

Born out of the COVID-19 crisis, which made it difficult for us to remotely onboard new employees at short notice, the new talent model is fast becoming part of our post-crisis playbook. Managers who need more people or skills than those available in their teams can sign on interested employees who apply to work on this project. Employees who join these projects are compensated for their deliverables on the basis of the complexity of tasks rather than the time or effort they spend on completing it.

Already, the model is proving to be beneficial to all concerned stakeholders. The requesting manager gains access to a wider pool of talent, manages spillover tasks better, and gains the advantage of cross-pollination of best practices from other projects. The uberized employees get exposure to a wider variety of technologies, gain the experience of working with multiple clients, and build a wider network among peers. The sharing manager meanwhile leverages multiple advantages, including cost sharing with the uberized project, cross-skilling of the project team, and new insights into best practices from other projects, while procuring reward points for sharing a resource.

What are you doing to make use of the pandemic to reinvent your talent strategy? Write in to tell me!