How Not to Implement Open Innovation

by Stefan Lindegaard

Let me start out by saying that it is purely accidental that I am lashing out at Campbell Soup Company in this blog post. It could have been several other companies as Campbell has not really done things that have not been done at other companies that set up programs to accept innovative ideas from external sources. While their intentions may be good, their execution is so poor that I can’t imagine they’ll have much success at this attempt at open innovation.

Here are a few of the problems I see with Campbell’s Ideas for Innovation program:

It’s too vague and unfocused

  • Campbell says they want “ideas for new products, packaging, marketing, and production technologies that will help us meet the needs of our consumers and customers better, faster and more completely.” Gee, that could be almost anything, couldn’t it? Why not help your potential external partners and save everybody time by being more specific about what you’re looking for?
  • Hopefully, Campbell Soup Company (and other companies doing this) have set an innovation strategy and know much more specifically what areas they’re most interested in pursuing than the catch-all description above implies. By being so vague, they avoid being inundated by the type of useless and energy-wasting ideas like the one mentioned in this humorous or perhaps sarcastic post: Campbell Needs My Help

Turn me on, not off

  • Campbell says it will take you three to six months to get a reply and if they turn down your idea, you will not receive any explanation of why it has been rejected. Why not try to make it more inviting? I think the reason for both these stipulations is that Campbell is afraid of getting too many submissions, which takes me back to my first point. Bring some focus to the effort and you’ll receive ideas that are more on target and that can be reviewed faster and better. And for heaven’s sakes, if someone went to the trouble of sending in idea, you could at least develop some general categories to explain why an idea is turned down.

  • It reads like an ego-trip. A press-release said this: “The Ideas for Innovation website is designed to provide an effective way for Campbell to review and evaluate unsolicited ideas by offering people who do not work for the company an easy way to submit ideas.” You ask people for their input and yet you design the entire process towards your own needs. Come on! Yes, this is your website and you are in control. But the website talks only about why this is good for Campbell. Why not mention what Campbell can bring to the table to the companies or people interested in working with them and how this can be done? This kind of behaviour is typical of large companies not caring about others than themselves and I think it will hurt them in the long run in this new era of open innovation.

No commitment leads to wasted resources; internal resistance

  • The press release announcing Campbell’s Ideas for Innovation initiative mentions that external involvement is a key element to improve their innovation results. If this is a key element for them, then I really wonder why they do not put more effort into it.
  • Campbell does mention that they have other ways of accessing innovation from other sources. I hope this includes a pure business-to-business version that is much more attentive towards their partners compared to their Ideas for Innovation website. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information on this so perhaps they don’t. Perhaps Campbell uses intermediaries such as Innocentive and NineSigma. I think they can benefit from a partnership with such intermediaries if they manage to focus their efforts.
  • Campbell is a big company and they can easily absorb this wasted effort. I am more worried about how this can fuel internal opponents of open innovation as the the results will most likely support their arguments for not opening up to external partners. I can hear the comments now: “Geeze, all we’re getting from this program is a bunch of junk. What a waste of time!”

Has Campbell learned anything?

  • The website was launched in April. I wonder what they have learned. I assume they must have encountered at least some of the issues that I mention in this post since the launch five months ago. Yet, they have not made any significant chances to their approach. Perhaps they just wanted a Me-Too project when they learned about those external idea generation initiatives launched by Dell, Starbucks and many others. To me, it seems like they ended up with a bad copy leaving the impression that they do not really believe in open innovation. I am sorry to say that it gives the innovation group at Campbell a not-so-good image.

Conclusion

Has Campbell reached their goals with this initiative? Was this just a marketing gimmick? I cannot tell, but my gut feeling tells me that they aimed pretty low on this. They have probably received a ton of useless ideas and very few quality ideas that they have decided to move forward with. This effort has cost Campbell and all the people who submitted ideas resources that could have been spent better.

I might be wrong on many of my assumptions. Nevertheless, my message to Campbell – and to other companies working with similar initiatives – please do better than this.


Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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