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How To Use Open Innovation In The Corporate World with Jonty Slater

What would you do if you’ve sold your company for enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life – sail the Caribbean? Or start over. 

Today’s guest, Jonty Slater, Manager Director at Blue Globe Innovation is in the latter camp. Jonty decided to create a business and to give back at the same time. Blue Globe Innovation is like no other company, it’s an organisation that solves amazingly complex technical challenges for companies, governments and NGOs. 

Blue Globe Innovation runs open innovation challenges around the world and in this incredibly insightful episode, Jonty shares with listeners a few of the challenges he’s recently been involved in, including the UK government’s ventilator challenge and the Rwanda Lake Kivu challenge. 

While these challenges are exciting, you might be wondering how they’re applicable to your organisation. Well, here’s the thing – CEOs are often great at linear innovation, really good at running business as usual. But a lot of the time they’re struggling to have incremental innovation. And that’s precisely where Jonty’s team can help. 

Open innovation isn’t just for finding solutions to big pandemic problems, like COVID. It’s a process that can be applied to solve your current business problem. 

This is a fantastic conversation and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

On today’s podcast:

  • What is Blue Globe Innovation
  • Open innovation and the innovation funnel
  • Using the crowd to solve your corporate problem
  • Africa Drone Forum
  • How to reward staff for innovation
  • Innovation databases
  • Using innovation challenges as a CSR

Links:

Using The Power Of The Crowd To Innovate In The Corporate World

Blue Globe Innovation was set up to look at open innovation in a new way, in a way that can make innovation more accessible to NGOs, development organisations and small and large businesses that don’t want to pay for all of the extra bits that standard innovation consultancies provide.

At the helm of Blue Globe Innovation is Jonty Slater. Jonty made his money and rather than retiring to the Caribbean for the remainder of his life, he decided he wanted to start another business, and give back. And he’s done just that.

“We engage in supporting a client to deliver innovation within their business or externally, but by assisting them, so we capacity-build within their organisations, we don’t try to do everything for them.”

Innovation funnel

The innovation funnel is where everybody puts all of their ideas in at the beginning and a single idea pops out at the end – the solution to the problem. In reality it isn’t quite that simple, says Jonty. 

“Human nature is for ideas to leave and engage throughout that funnel. You want lots of holes in that funnel so ideas can come in at late stages, or ideas can leave at late stages and create a new funnel in another place. It doesn’t just have to be a single in and out, lots in one out kind of process.”

It’s essentially an incredibly clever way of using the power of a crowd to brainstorm your problem. 

When you’re trying to solve a problem you typically have two choices, as CEO, you can either recruit new brains to the team, or you can use an innovation process called open innovation, whereby you pose your problem to an innovation database, such as Innocentive, and ask them to solve the problem for you. 

Why would you want to announce your problem to the world? Because, says Jonty, the chances are, there’s a solution to your issue in a parallel industry that you aren’t aware of. 

Power of the internal crowd

But what if you don’t want to outsource the problem, why not engage the staff you employ, the people who know the company inside and out, to find a solution for you? 

“The reason you employed them [your staff] is because they are clever. You didn’t employ them just to be autonomous robots. You wanted them to think as well. But you need to give them a way of thinking about it [your problem]. So that’s valuable to them, so that they get something out of it.”

You want to engage with staff so they become a part of your innovation process. But engaging with them takes effort, it takes resources, it takes management and it takes CEO buy in.

So reward your staff for solving your problem, says Jonty, and get EVERYBODY involved.

Start off by writing up your problem so that everybody from the janitor to your accountant can understand where you’re stuck, everybody has a different perspective, nobody’s approach is right or wrong and the more people who can think about your problem differently, the more likely they are to come up with a solution you haven’t thought of. 

“Your staff will have crazy ideas they have been thinking about. And if you give it [the problem] in a way that allows them to structure it, so that everybody can understand it, and you reward them in a way that people want to be rewarded, people will engage with it.”

Implement an innovation process

But don’t have a one-off innovation challenge, recommends Jonty, if you want your staff to take the innovation process seriously, put processes in place to continuously engage with people and run challenges a couple of times a year. 

“What open innovation is really all about within a community, within organisations, it’s about bringing people together to help solve a problem. You’re running mini hackathons all the time, in a way that allows people to help your business and actually get value out of it.”

But what happens if you can’t get people to share their idea? 

“Quite a lot of the time people don’t like to share their idea. People like to be valued for it and either be part of the team or to be given a chunk of money to hand over [their] intellectual property.”

You could go down the route of – any idea that is generated on company time belongs to the company, but quite a lot of companies now realise the value in letting staff own the intellectual property of their idea – it lets them get more value out of it, and in turn they give more value to the business. 

Blue Globe Innovation

How does Blue Globe Innovation fit into with your corporation? 

They will take your problem out to the crowd, to see what’s happening in different cultures and with different people around the world. They get in front of these people and get them interested in your problem. 

“Lots of people are bored sitting at home. A lot of people especially during COVID are engaging with things virtually more than they have ever before. This is an amazing time to engage with people, to give people problems to solve. Puzzle websites have seen traffic increase by 400-500% during COVID, because people still wanted to be intellectually engaged with the problem.”

Book recommendations

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