The open-innovation culture

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There is no point in structuring accurately the innovation approach and the open-innovation initiatives if companies do not spread the innovation culture.

This is how Filippo Frangi, researcher at the School of Management at Politecnico of Milan Startup Intelligence Observatory, starts his intervention, during the introduction day for the 2021 survey, where Observers could investigate on innovation of Italian companies. It will be, on the other side, Stefano Mainetti, the Startup Intelligence Observatory scientific Manager, to get inside of the role that open-innovation plays into the Italian companies.

Innovation culture and enterprises

To innovate means being able to look beyond borders of our own company. The fusion between the consolidated reality dynamics and the world of entrepreneurship and startups is considered as positive by 72% of the companies involved in the survey, providing activities of corporate entrepreneurship; however, 15% of them intends to provide some of these initiatives too; while just 13% seems not to be interested to this kind of integration.

In this context, the companies interventions can be very different one another. Most of them aims to project some training activities, or to mould the leadership style. Just few of them plans more structured activitities, such as action learning pathscontest and internal hackathon or even practical interactions with startups.

Cultural approach

Mr. Frangi explains in his premise how all this will not be fully effective until the cultural environment will be ready to welcome innovation. Innovation, must not be imposed, but spread in a continuative way. Companies are working in this direction, especially by favoring employees participation to innovation initiatives (44%), and digital and business skills spreading (30%). According to what they say, 20-30% of the companies involved in the survey, furthermore, works in opposite directions, by favoring experience sharing and creative thinking, and making alliances with other external actors.

Just 20% choses to spend time and space into innovation projects. Even though there are not many companies to do that, this is very important for the spreading of innovation culture. Indeed, it is not positive just because it allows employees to spend time on innovatives pojects, but also because it helps to legitimate innovation itself. Just 15% of the companies invests resources into a sore, but still crucial button: failure acceptance. Being able to elaborate a defeat is important to grow up, even for business.

Mr. Frangi continues his intervention by talking about innovative initiatives different perceptions. Against the measures that che companies will or are willing to apply, indeed, the percentage of feedback from employees are quite lower. The only ecception is the creation of partnerships with external actors. It seems to give a boost to the employees, more than to the company itself. However, in general, the survey highlighted a sharp discrepancy between the company effort to engage people and the perception of this last. This is why, it seems that many times thera is a lack of a concrete encouragement from the companies, in order to stimulate the spreading of the innovation culture.

You cannot handle what you cannot measure

Innovation can even be measured and that is the only way to handle it properly. However, there are no many companies that seem to understand that. Even if their number has increased in the last few years, the survey reavealed that just 39% of the companies involved has adopted a measuring system for innovation performances. Among them, just 10% has a consolodated system. However, it is encouraging that 37% of the companies declared to be willing of developping in this direction, while just 24% seems not to be interested.

Furthermore, even when innovation is measured, the parameters it is based on, are those that are easily measurable. At the first place we find business outcomes, which are, with no doubts, one of the main innovation final goals, followed by the amount of resource spent for it. Lastly, the projects operative steps are measured. They are fundamental parameters to establish the progress status.

However, these parameters are quite far from what companies consider as important the most to measure. Apart from business outcomes, indeed, the management considers as relevant the evaluation of the enrichment of knowledge of the company against the business into which it is applied, and the effectiveness in the innovation culture spreading. However, it is hard to find some markers to quantify these parameters, and this is why their measuring, even though more effective, is still about interactions, but has trouble in getting materialized.

Pushing towards openinnovation

Innovation, especially the open one, could be seen as a sort of rebellion to the pre-existing order, trying to unhinge the company dynamics in order to reach something new. Sometimes, there is the need of incentives to set the system in motion towards an innovation that could be scary. Pandemic has partially modified the sources of these incentives, strengthening some of them and getting new ones. Mr. Mainetti introduces the top management as the main actor, pushing the company to tackle the topic, followed by some other company functions. At the third place, we find external customers, source of inspiration for companies, even in terms of innovation.  

Actually, the real news of post-pandemic-outbreak is the appearance of startups, universities and reseach centers as a source of incentives to innovation for companies.Indeed, the health emergency stimulated the aknowledge for the need of renewing the past schemes and attitudes. The desire for novelty paved the way for innovation, together with a great amount of economic help made available by our country.

Open-innovation: the companies attitudes

From theory to practice. Not every company shows the same propensity to innovation, or implements the same strategies to put it into practice. Mr. Mainetti explains that a relevant demarcation line consists in the size of the company. Indeed, 81% of big companies adopts open-innovation strategies, while in the small-medium sized companies it is just 41% to use those strategies. In both kind of companies, inbound approaches prevail. These last encompasses the internalization of the company external innovation, including the cooperation with universities and research centers at first place. In several cases, these strategies are supported by outbound approaches, such as the platform business model.

How much does this cost? Mr. Mainetti ends his contribute by exposing the survey results about open-innovation costs. Even though it is not easy to esteem the hidden costs, it emerges that innovations affects minimally on the company revenue: just about a mean of 0.1%. Even if we consider the ICT budget, the value is very low: a mean of 3.6% of the money is invested in open innovation affairs.

Even though it might look like just a drop in the ocean, the data from the 2021 survey are quite encouraging. Companies seem to be ready to innovate, and start to prove it with facts. Anyway, we cannot forget about the need of spreading the innovation culture, and Italian companies still must fully understand that.