Open Innovation Examples, Definition, and Challenges

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In business and technology, open innovation is a type of innovation that has emerged not merely as a trend but as a transformative force reshaping the very landscape of how organizations innovate. It represents a departure from traditional, closed-door innovation practices. It’s a paradigm that acknowledges the boundless well of creativity that exists beyond an organization’s internal boundaries. Crucial to the success of open innovation is the integration of a well-crafted innovation strategy. This strategy ensures that the organization’s creative endeavours are purposeful, strategic, and aligned with long-term success with a strong innovation culture within the innovation process.

What sets this exploration apart is our alliance with Digital Leadership, a pioneering digital strategy and execution firm. Within the scope of open innovation, Digital Leadership brings Innovation Consulting services which serve as a compass for organizations navigating the open innovation landscape. With a networked structure and senior teams boasting 10+ years of experience, Digital Leadership provides invaluable guidance in initiating, pausing, or scaling projects seamlessly. Innovation Blueprint is another initial integral service offered by Digital Leadership which takes organizations from the whiteboard to reality. It runs innovation and transformation projects from ideation to implementation, offering end-to-end solutions across all relevant domains with a holistic approach.

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In this article, we delve into the definition, examples, and challenges associated with open innovation, shedding light on its significance for entrepreneurs seeking to drive innovation in their organizations. As we navigate through the intricacies of open innovation, innovation entrepreneurs will gain valuable insights that can guide them in steering their organizations towards a future where collaboration, ingenuity, and adaptability reign supreme – aided by the expert services of Digital Leadership.

What is Innovation?

Before we delve into open innovation, let’s first understand the broader concept of innovation. Innovation is the process of creating and implementing new ideas, products, or processes that bring about positive change. It is the lifeblood of progress and a key driver of success in the business world.

Much more about innovation approaches, you will find in our book How to Create Innovation. Recognizing that innovation is a dynamic process, this guide emphasizes adaptability. Stay ahead of the curve by understanding how innovation strategies evolve with market dynamics, ensuring sustained relevance and competitiveness.

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What is Open Innovation?

Open innovation takes innovation a step further by emphasizing collaboration, idea-sharing, and partnerships with external entities, it is a concept I introduced, strategically positioned at the intersection of business and academia. Unlike traditional closed innovation models, where all innovation is done in-house, it recognizes that valuable ideas can come from anywhere. It encourages organizations to tap into external sources, including customers, suppliers, and even competitors, to co-create and leverage collective intelligence.

How Important is Open Innovation?

Open innovation stands as a linchpin for organizations seeking to navigate and thrive in the intricacies of the business environment. Beyond its fundamental role in ensuring competitiveness and agility, it serves as a catalyst for addressing multifaceted challenges and enhancing opportunities Identification for growth. The global knowledge access it provides allows companies to tap into a vast reservoir of expertise, accelerating their ability to innovate and stay at the forefront of industry trends.

The collaborative nature of open innovation facilitates an accelerated time-to-market, a crucial advantage in industries where swift adaptation is paramount. Importantly, it acts as a strategic risk mitigation tool, enabling organizations to distribute and share the inherent uncertainties of the innovation process through collaborative endeavours. By embracing open innovation, businesses not only enhance their customer-centricity but also actively contribute to the cultivation of innovation ecosystems, fostering continuous learning and enhancing idea generation.

Implementing an Innovation Approach Model within an open innovation framework provides a structured and strategic guide for organizations to effectively channel the collaborative and diverse inputs obtained through open innovation. It ensures that the innovative endeavours align with overarching business goals, making the entire process more purposeful, strategic, and attuned to long-term success.

Innovation Process - Process Approach
The Unite Innovation Approach
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

Open Innovation Examples

To illustrate the impact of open innovation, let’s explore innovation examples from leading companies that have embraced this approach:


Samsung, a global technology giant, is renowned for its open innovation initiatives. The company actively collaborates with external partners, startups, and research institutions to fuel its product development. By engaging in open innovation, Samsung taps into a vast pool of ideas and expertise, ensuring that its products stay at the forefront of technology.

General Electric (GE)

General Electric is another exemplar of open innovation. GE has embraced the idea that great ideas can come from anywhere, and through initiatives like GE Ventures, the company collaborates with startups and entrepreneurs to co-create innovative solutions. This approach allows GE to stay agile and responsive to emerging market trends.

Procter & Gamble (P&G)

Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble has a rich history of open innovation. P&G actively seeks external input through partnerships, joint ventures, and collaboration with academic institutions. This strategy has led to breakthrough innovations in product development and marketing, reinforcing P&G‘s position as an industry leader.


The iconic toy company LEGO has embraced open innovation to enhance its product offerings. Through initiatives like the LEGO Ideas platform, the company invites its community of enthusiasts to submit and vote on new product ideas. This co-creation model not only generates innovative product concepts but also fosters a passionate and engaged customer community.


Even space exploration isn’t immune to the benefits of open innovation. NASA has leveraged crowdsourcing and open innovation challenges to solve complex problems. By tapping into the collective intelligence of scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts worldwide, NASA has found innovative solutions for space exploration challenges.


IBM‘s commitment to open innovation is evident in its collaborations with startups, developers, and clients. Through initiatives like the IBM Global Entrepreneur program, the company provides resources and support to startups working on innovative solutions. This collaborative approach helps IBM stay at the forefront of emerging technologies.

Types of Open Innovation Models

Open innovation can take various forms. Understanding these models is essential for organizations looking to adopt an open innovation strategy. Here are four key types of open innovation models:

1. Outside-in Open Innovation

In the outside-in model, organizations actively seek external ideas and technologies to incorporate into their innovation processes. This may involve collaborations with startups, partnerships with research institutions, or participation in innovation ecosystems.

2. Inside-out Open Innovation

Conversely, the inside-out model involves organizations sharing their internal ideas, technologies, or assets with external partners. This could include licensing intellectual property, forming joint ventures, or collaborating with external entities to bring innovations to market.

3. Coupled Open Innovation

It combines elements of both outside-in and inside-out approaches. Organizations engage in reciprocal relationships with external partners, exchanging ideas and technologies for mutual benefit. This collaborative model often leads to synergies and accelerated innovation.

4. Collaborative Open Innovation

It emphasizes partnerships and joint ventures between organizations with complementary capabilities. By pooling resources and expertise, collaborators can tackle complex challenges and co-create innovative solutions.

How to Apply Open Innovation in Business Innovation Process

Implementing open innovation in the innovation process requires a strategic approach. Here are seven steps organizations can take to integrate open innovation into their business innovation process:

1. Define Strategic Objectives

Clearly define the strategic objectives that open innovation aims to address. Whether it’s accelerating product development, entering new markets, or solving specific challenges, align open innovation goals with overall business objectives.

2. Identify External Collaboration Partners

Identify potential external collaboration partners, including startups, research institutions, and industry experts. Building a network of diverse collaborators enhances the breadth and depth of external insights.

3. Define the Framework for Collaboration

Establish a framework for collaboration that outlines how information, resources, and ideas will be shared. Clearly communicate expectations and create a collaborative environment that fosters creativity and innovation.

4. Tailoring Open Innovation Methods

Select open innovation methods that align with the organization’s goals and challenges. This may involve crowdsourcing, hackathons, joint ventures, or other collaborative approaches tailored to specific contexts.

5. Engage in Knowledge Exchange

Facilitate knowledge exchange between internal teams and external collaborators. Encourage open communication, idea sharing, and the free flow of information to maximize the benefits of collaboration.

6. Evaluate and Select Ideas/Solution Proposals

Implement a robust evaluation process to assess the feasibility and potential impact of ideas or solution proposals. This may involve cross-functional teams, expert reviews, and iterative feedback loops.

7. Integrate and Develop

Integrate successful ideas into the organization’s innovation pipeline and initiate the development process. Ensure a seamless transition from ideation to implementation, leveraging both internal and external resources.

8. Leverage Open Innovation Platform

Integrate an open innovation platform into the process to streamline collaboration. This platform acts as a central hub for idea submission, evaluation, and collaboration, enhancing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the open innovation initiative.

It has become a pivotal force for driving collaborative innovation. This platform serves as a structured space where organizations can break free from internal boundaries, inviting a diverse range of contributors to participate in the ideation and innovation process. With transparent evaluation processes and robust communication channels, the platform accelerates innovation cycles and expands the idea pool, fostering breakthrough innovations. Beyond individual projects, it contributes to ecosystem building, cultivating continuous learning, cross-industry partnerships, and a culture of sustained innovation. By actively engaging internal and external stakeholders, setting clear guidelines, and promoting diversity, organizations can harness the full potential of an open innovation platform to navigate the complexities of the modern business environment.

To add a comprehensive strategic dimension to this process, consider leveraging the Business Model Canvas, a powerful tool that helps organizations visualize, design, and reinvent their business models. Understanding the intricacies of the extended Business Model Canvas becomes particularly important in the context of applying open innovation in business. This model offers a holistic view of how different elements of a business interconnect and provides insights into optimizing the business model to accommodate collaborative and innovative approaches. Learn more about the extended Business Model Canvas here.

Business Model Canvas Template
The UNITE Business Model Canvas
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the work of Alexander Osterwalder

Advantages of Open Innovation

The adoption of open innovation brings forth a myriad of advantages for businesses:

1. Access a Broader Relevance Audience and Involve Them in Product Development

It allows businesses to tap into a diverse pool of talent, perspectives, and expertise. By involving external stakeholders in the innovation process, companies can create products and services that resonate with a broader audience.

2. Lowering Innovation Costs

Traditional R&D can be costly and time-consuming. It offers a cost-effective alternative by leveraging external resources, reducing the burden on internal teams, and accelerating the innovation cycle.

3. Improves Brand Image and Builds Strong Connections

Engaging in open innovation sends a positive message to the market. It demonstrates a commitment to collaboration, innovation, and a willingness to embrace diverse ideas. This, in turn, enhances brand image and fosters strong connections with customers and partners.

4. Ensuring Sustainable Innovation and Reducing Innovation Risks

By diversifying the sources of innovation, organizations can reduce the risk of relying solely on internal capabilities. It ensures a continuous influx of fresh ideas, mitigating the risk of stagnation and promoting sustainable innovation.

5. Diversifying Revenue Streams

Collaborations and partnerships resulting from open innovation can lead to the development of new products, services, or revenue streams. Businesses can explore untapped markets and capitalize on opportunities that align with their core competencies.

6. Keeping Employees Engaged and Enhancing Innovation Culture

Involving employees in open innovation initiatives fosters a culture of continuous learning and adaptability. It keeps internal teams engaged, encourages creativity, and instils a sense of pride in contributing to the organization’s success.

7. Gaining a Competitive Edge

In today’s competitive business landscape, staying ahead requires constant innovation. It provides a competitive edge by tapping into external expertise and market trends, ensuring organizations remain at the forefront of their industries.

Open Innovation Challenges

While the open innovation benefits are substantial, it comes with its set of challenges. Addressing these challenges is essential for successful implementation:

Navigating intellectual property (IP) rights and legal agreements can be complex in open innovation collaborations. Clear contractual frameworks and IP management strategies are crucial to avoid legal disputes.

Operational Hurdles Challenges

Implementing open innovation may require adjustments to existing operational processes. Organizations must be prepared for changes in workflow, communication, and project management to accommodate external collaborators.

Strategic Obstacles Challenges

Aligning open innovation strategies with overall business strategies is a common challenge. Ensuring that external collaborations align with the organization’s long-term goals is essential for sustained success.

Cultural Barriers to Successful Open Innovation

Organizational culture plays a significant role in the success of open innovation initiatives. Overcoming resistance to change, fostering a collaborative mindset, and building a culture that values external input are critical.

Lack of Setting Clear Goals for Open Innovation Initiatives

Without clearly defined goals, open innovation initiatives may lack focus and direction. Setting specific, measurable, and achievable objectives is vital for guiding the innovation process effectively.

Open Innovation vs Closed Innovation: How to Choose the Right Model for Your Business?

Open and closed innovation primarily differ in the way innovation is generated. Closed innovation companies operate within a self-contained innovative environment, whereas open innovation companies actively source external knowledge as a core element of their innovation management strategies.

Closed Innovation

Closed innovation, also known as traditional or internal innovation, involves keeping the entire innovation process within the confines of the organization. This model relies on internal R&D teams and proprietary research to drive innovation.

Open Innovation

Open innovation, as discussed earlier, emphasizes collaboration with external partners and stakeholders. It embraces the idea that valuable ideas can come from anywhere and encourages organizations to tap into external expertise.

The Difference Between Closed Innovation and Open Innovation

The primary difference lies in the approach to idea generation and development. Closed innovation relies on internal resources, while open innovation leverages external input to drive the innovation process.

AspectClosed InnovationOpen Innovation
Source of IdeasInternal: Ideas generated within the organization.External: Ideas sourced from a diverse external network.
Innovation ProcessLinear and Internal: Traditional R&D within the company.Iterative and Collaborative: Involves external partners.
Secrecy vs. TransparencyEmphasis on Secrecy: Protecting proprietary information.Emphasis on Transparency: Sharing and collaborating openly.
Risk DistributionInternalized Risk: Risks and experiments within the firm.Externalized Risk: Collaborative partners share the risk.
Speed of InnovationTypically Slower: Limited to internal resources and pace.Potentially Faster: Leveraging external expertise and speed.
FlexibilityLimited Flexibility: Relies on internal capabilities.High Flexibility: Adaptable to external changes and trends.
Cultural FocusInward-Focused: Internal teams drive innovation.Outward-Focused: Collaboration and openness are emphasized.
ExamplesTraditional R&D Labs, Closed Product Development.Open Source Projects, Collaborative Innovation Platforms.

Steps of Choosing Open Innovation or Closed Innovation for Your Business

Making the right choice between open innovation and closed innovation involves a thoughtful evaluation of organizational goals, industry dynamics, and the desired pace of innovation. Consider the following steps:

1. Get Clear About Your Objectives

Define the specific objectives you aim to achieve through open innovation. Whether it’s accelerating time-to-market, accessing external expertise, or fostering a culture of collaboration, clarity about your goals is essential.

Ensure that the objectives of open innovation align with your overall corporate strategy. Consider how external collaborations fit into your long-term vision and contribute to the organization’s growth.

3. Select the Right People in Your Organization

Building a successful open innovation strategy requires the right talent. Identify individuals within your organization who are passionate about innovation, adaptable to change, and capable of facilitating external collaborations.

4. Balance Open and Closed Activities According to Your Strategy and Culture

Find the right balance between open and closed innovation activities. Some organizations may benefit from a hybrid approach, combining internal R&D with external collaborations. Tailor the approach to align with your organizational culture.

As you navigate this decision-making process, consider leveraging the Value Proposition Canvas, a strategic tool designed to help businesses articulate, test, and optimize their value propositions. Understanding the nuances of the Value Proposition Canvas becomes particularly crucial when applying open innovation in business. This model aids in identifying and refining the value your organization offers to external collaborators and ensures alignment with the broader business strategy. Explore the Value Proposition Canvas in-depth here.

Value Proposition Canvas
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Based on the work of Peter Thomson which is based on the work of Steve Blank, Clayton Christensen, Seith Godin, Yves Pigneur and Alex Osterwalder and the original Value Proposition Canvas

Factors Influencing Successful Implementation

Implementing open innovation successfully requires a strategic and well-executed approach. Consider the following factors to ensure the seamless integration of open innovation into your organization:

1. Get Clear About Your Objectives for Open Innovation

Clarity about your goals is the foundation of a successful open innovation strategy. Clearly defined objectives guide decision-making and ensure that the innovation process aligns with broader organizational goals.

Integrating open innovation into your corporate strategy is essential for sustained success. Ensure that external collaborations contribute to your long-term vision and enhance the overall competitiveness of your organization.

3. Select the Right People in Your Organization

Building an open innovation culture requires the right individuals. Identify and empower employees who are enthusiastic about innovation, adaptable to change, and capable of fostering collaboration both internally and externally.

4. Balance Open and Closed Activities According to Your Strategy and Culture

Finding the right balance between open and closed innovation activities is crucial. Tailor your approach to align with your organizational culture, industry dynamics, and the specific challenges you aim to address through innovation.

Methodologies for the Application of Open Innovation

Implementing open innovation involves utilizing various methodologies. Here are some effective approaches to applying open innovation in your organization:

  • Crowdsourcing: Engage a diverse group of individuals, including customers, employees, and external experts, to contribute ideas and solutions to specific challenges.
  • Hackathons: Organize intensive, collaborative events where participants work together to develop innovative solutions within a short timeframe.
  • Joint Ventures: Collaborate with external organizations to form joint ventures that leverage the strengths and capabilities of each partner.
  • Open Innovation Challenges: Pose specific challenges to the public or targeted communities, encouraging them to submit innovative solutions.


In conclusion, open innovation stands as a powerful strategy for organizations aiming to thrive in an era of rapid change and technological advancement. By embracing external collaboration, tapping into diverse expertise, and fostering an innovation culture, businesses can unlock new possibilities and stay ahead of the competition.

As entrepreneurs navigate the complex landscape of open innovation, it’s crucial to understand the diverse models, methodologies, and challenges associated with this approach. By doing so, organizations can position themselves as leaders in their industries, driving sustainable innovation and achieving lasting success.

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