Last week, I wondered aloud as to whether some consumer products companies engaged in open innovation may be practicing a form of “Not Invented Here” syndrome that I call “Not Found by Us”. I suggested that even after excluding as (justifiably) unworthy the majority of external opportunities, those identified by the company itself fare considerably better than unsolicited external submissions in internal review processes.
While I believe this may well be true, another explanation for the absence of unsolicited opportunities among commercialized products could be that it is virtually impossible for unsolicited external submissions to meet the collectively high standards required by most consumer products companies. My sense is that there is a dramatic gap between the types of external opportunities that companies actively seek and develop and those that are proposed on an unsolicited basis.
Companies are most interested in on-strategy, highly differentiated, commercially and economically viable, technically feasible and scalable opportunities. How many of these options are being offered up on an unsolicited basis? Very few, if any, I’d imagine. I also suspect that many submissions are lucky if they meet more than one or two of these standards. Yet, how many submitters are aware of these standards? Also very few, I’d imagine. Many external submissions are relatively early stage, and as such, are far riskier, and therefore less attractive to companies than more finished propositions. Opportunities proactively scouted by companies are more likely to meet more of their selection requirements than unsolicited ones. Even if some may come up a bit short, there may still be sufficient internal “suction” (i.e. advocacy) for these options to treat these as manageable and surmountable deficiencies.
If what I am saying is even mostly true, then I feel that companies would do the public a favor by being highly explicit about the necessary prerequisites for a credible candidacy. They should also disclose the real (exceptionally low) chances of success for any submission that fails to meet these rigorous standards. That way, an interested party can make an educated decision as to whether or not to invest the time in preparing a submission. I expect that this will cause most to not pursue the opportunity. Importantly, this disclosure will significantly decrease frustration and disappointment among unqualified would-be submitters. Also important, it should help free up corporate resources to manage a few, highly credentialed candidates.
Even in instances where a submitted technology makes the so-called “first cut”, companies should continue to be extremely transparent and forthcoming about the overall process, milestones, investment decisions and standards in order to ensure informed decision making, including among individuals who may have unrealistic ambitions. In my experience, prospects can be reluctant to ask such questions at risk of offending the company and in so doing, jeopardize their candidacy. Companies, in turn, seem content to keep matters vague in order to avoid the risk of sending false impression as to interest and/or commitment. In any relationship, open and candid communication is essential for the best shared outcomes. It certainly should apply to this area.