Michael Fruhling's Blog

A bunch of stuff about innovation…

Open Innovation: Lots of Activity, But Little Urgency

Posted by mdf4u on April 12, 2010

About 2 years ago, I conducted an industry benchmarking study to assess the relative performance of major consumer products companies in their handling of unsolicited technology submissions. A conspicuous finding was the relatively slow pace at which most companies processed these submissions. With some exceptions, it commonly took longer than 8 or even 12 weeks for them to process submissions and for the submitter to receive any type of preliminary decisive response (beyond an acknowledgment of receipt). 

Fast-forward to the present, and I am pleased to report that most companies engaged in open innovation have recognized this as a deficiency, and have made significant progress to speed their initial replies (mostly rejections, though…) to within reasonable time periods (i.e. 8 weeks or less).   That’s good news.  But there’s still a big problem, in my view.  Allow me to explain.

Let’s assume for a moment that roughly 90% of all external unsolicited submissions are rejected on first pass.  It’s good that these individuals learn of this decision quickly.   However, what about the 10% or so, that have not been given the hook?   Based upon my experience (and this is only my experience…I want to avoid painting the industry with a single broad brush), we still appear to be where we were two years ago.  In my view, there is no apparent sense of urgency to progress these candidates through the evaluation process.  Follow-up is still generally initiated by the submitter, with variable responsiveness.

What are some reasons for this?  While I imagine that it varies by company, I have some educated guesses:

There are no standards for cycle times following initial thumbs up/down, so no one knows what constitutes an “acceptable” duration between communications. 

 No one is assigned to monitoring individual cases to ensure timely progress.  

There are no standards for communicating status/progress beyond initial thumbs up/down and no individuals assigned specific responsibility for this.

Corporate mindset is still to accumulate and manage technology leads, not to manage personal relationships.   Processing of leads is viewed as an administrative obligation.  There is an implicit assumption that a lead that is not rejected is “hooked” and not likely to opt out due to time delays. 

Individuals involved in the discreet evaluation phases don’t have responsibility for the technology after it gets turned over to an operating division.  Said differently, they only see part of the overall process, and don’t “own” the deliverables. 

 I challenge consumer products companies to continue to make strides in managing external relationships and to make measurable improvements in this vital performance area.   I believe this may be the next great frontier for external innovation (and a major competitive differentiator).

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