Defining Open Innovation and User-Driven Innovation

by Stefan Lindegaard

User-Driven InnovationUser-driven and open innovation mean different things to many people. So how should consultants guide their clients on this?

This became one of the key issues in a discussion that followed my Why User-Driven Innovation Should Not Be Confused With Open Innovation post.

I argued that these two types of innovation are related, but not the same. I also argued that open innovation and user-driven innovation already have too many different meanings and definitions making it useless for academics and consultants to drive ONE definition for these terms.

As a comment to this, Ellen Di Resta suggested that we should “view user-innovation and open innovation as approaches. Thinking of it that way, then it’s the application of an approach that needs to be tailored to each specific context.”

Ellen also mentioned that the terms can be ambiguous, and asked whether this might not be the point as it keeps us from being boxed too narrowly into a corner when we may need our tools to be flexible enough to handle a broad range of challenges.

I fully agree with Ellen when she argued “that consultants should take a more practical approach on this and help their clients define innovation towards their situation.”

Rikard Waero agreed as well, but he brought in some perspective on this by stating that “the customer is right, we just need to help them understand where they are acting wrong. The theoretical work behind open innovation and user-driven innovation can help us lead them in the right directions, but the correction should not be communicated to them in a language they may misinterpret.”

Jeff Murphy, a corporate guy from J&J had this statement: “I prefer to view open innovation as a broad enough term that also includes what you have referred to as ‘user-driven innovation’.” Different than above, but then he also mentioned that “…rather than getting tangled in semantics, and see it as more productive for an organization to select and use the right types of open innovation – those that are best aligned with their organization’s specific needs, objectives, and business/technical complexity.”

Looking at the bigger picture, I think we are pretty aligned on this. What do you think? And how do you see the role of consultants when it comes to making open innovation happen?

By the way, Graham Horton noted that open innovation is a two-way process which allows both inbound and outbound movement during all stages of the innovation process. He has mentioned this earlier to me and he is of course right.

However, I believe companies have plenty of challenges just making the inbound process work and they need to focus on this. As they get the proper mindset and processes in place, then they can start looking into the outbound processes in which they out-license or sell technologies, ideas or intellectual property not being used internally. But focus is important in order to get it right in the first place.


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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