Innovation has become the name of the game for businesses to compete effectively in an increasingly kinetic, globalized and technology-driven marketplace. To ensure a constant supply of new ideas, today’s corporations know that they cannot rely solely on internal resources or a small circle of consultants anymore. It is now widely recognized that the ability to innovate also comes from the ability to leverage external resources to co-create value.
The pioneering example of Connect+Develop, a network of partners with whom P&G works to co-develop new products, has now become mainstream: General Mills has a program called G-Win, Kraft has its Innovation Kitchen, Nokia has launched its Ideas Project to crowdsource ideas…
With this fundamental shift towards an “open model” of innovation comes the need for skilled employees who are able to manage this strategic openness for companies. This begets a series of fundamental questions: Who should manage co-creative efforts within firms? What should be their background? Who should they report to? What resources and authority should we bestow upon them? From “Director of Global Open Innovation” to “Head of Crowdsourcing” we have looked at a handful of newly appointed co-creation managers to gather some interesting insights into this new breed of managers (sources for this article are listed at the end).
Companies are looking for specialists that can leverage the wealth of external networks to access fresh ideas. Who are these specialists?
Co-creation managers have a solid academic background and plenty of company experience to foster collaboration within their organization
The Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry has pioneered the model of open innovation. It is therefore not surprising that all FMCG giants have people dedicated to implement value co-creation across their organizations. Most of them have a similar background: a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline and a solid experience as R&D managers within their respective organizations.
- Chris Thoen, who managed Procter & Gamble’s Global Open Innovation Office, holds a PhD in Biochemistry and has worked for Procter & Gamble’s R&D departments since his early career. His experience at P&G brought him extensive technical and program leadership experience in consumer and commercial branded products, which he leveraged to build Connect+Develop.
- At General Mills, Jeff Belairs, Senior Director of Connected Innovation and manager of General Mills’ Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN), enjoys extensive experience in the food industry. “I knew how R&D was done — it was done with the best employees you could hire,” he said about his experience.
- At Mondelez, open innovation is managed by Miles Eddowes, an Oxford engineering graduate with a master’s degree in scientific instrumentation. “I started to get a real kick from working across the boundaries of different scientific disciplines whilst working for my PhD at the National Medical Laser Centre at University College London Hospital,” he said to the Irish Times. He subsequently joined Unipath, a high-tech spinout from Unilever, and was part of the team that developed the digital home-pregnancy test. “It was there that I learnt the art of open innovation – stretching the ambition of the parent company by building strategic partnerships to do what neither company could do by themselves,” he explained.
- Open innovation is growing out of the FMCG-sector and this is where we find more diverse co-creation managers’ profiles. At Nokia, the former Head of Crowdsourcing, Pia Erkinheimo, had a background in human resources and strategy, inside and outside of Nokia.
- At Lego, the Senior Manager who manages Open Innovation, Stiven Kerestegian, has a design background, with 15 years of design experience working with international corporations, consulting agencies and start-ups.
- Whatever the background and the experience, the daily job of co-creation managers is very similar from one company to another. The job of Unilever’s Director of Innovation Acceleration and Commercial Alliances Graham Cross, for example, is not solely focused on R&D but on “getting the maximal benefits of having Unilever collaborate with providers of any kind […] such as other companies and academic institutes”. To achieve this, co-creation managers have to engage in a variety of activities, from internal communication to networking with external partners.
A rich blend of internal and external project management, strategic vision and tactful implementation
Co-creation managers, crowdsourcing managers, open innovation managers… All these job titles have basically the same function: finding a way to align internal and external interests in order to co-create value together. “It’s about finding smart people inside and outside the company who can positively impact your business,” explained Jeff Belairs on General Mills’ open innovation blog. “It’s tremendously exciting as you discover new technologies and partners that can drive your business forward. And it’s equally challenging as you push against a culture that was built doing things internally.”
We found that co-creation managers’ role is often articulated around four key activities: setting-up a strategic roadmap for co-creation, fight against internal resistance to change the culture, explain the concept of co-creation, and establishing a solid partner ecosystem.
- 1) Setting up the strategic roadmap to implement co-creation
In its job offer to find a Senior Manager for Open Innovation, the Lego Group stated that the applicant’s mission would be “to support Lego’s growth ambition by establishing a systematic and disciplined approach to open innovation.” Every ship’s captain needs a second-in-command. While the CEO might impose open innovation as a strategic priority, there is still a need to implement it in practice. “There’s a need for a facilitator or roadmap for the entire open innovation process; something that would let our scientists be scientists, while the process could be the general management solution to guide them,” said Jeff Belairs from General Mills.
This implies setting up processes, managing people, and monitoring daily activities. Besides setting up processes and/or frameworks, co-creation managers also coordinate a team to implement their strategic roadmap. Belairs describes that General Mills has “almost 30 people dedicated full-time to the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, which is helping the company advance its innovation strategy.” He doesn’t directly work with all of them: “I manage a central team of seven that is in charge of tools, culture, process, and programs.”
- 2) Turning the “not-invented-here” into “proudly found elsewhere”
One of the biggest challenges for co-creation is to change company culture to accept the new open paradigm. “One of the problems in organizations can be resistance from those caught up in the ‘not invented here’ syndrome,” said Miles Eddowes, Director of Open Innovation at Kraft Foods.
Perfecto Perales, Senior Director of Packaging Research, similarly said that “it’s tough to change the culture and people’s behavior, and it seems to be happening.” He said that “it’s like a muscle that you’ve got to continuously exercise it to make it stronger. Kraft is continuing to build its innovation muscle and leverage it as a strength for our company.” The people who are in charge of organizing strategic openness have to fight company culture first. The best way to implement change is to show how co-creation is a win-win situation, thus to communicate it internally.
Steven Goers, previously VP Open Innovation & Investment Strategy at Kraft Foods and now at Consulting Partner at YourEncore, described in an interview: “One of the things that surprised me was the length of time and the amount of communication needed in order to gain clarity and alignment within our company on our approach to open innovation.” Beyond communicating the benefits of an open innovation strategy, he underlines that the mere explanation of the concepts is very important: “What is it? What is it not? Those of us who are doing this every day thought that was crystal clear, and it turns out that it wasn’t as clear,” he explained. This relates to another aspect of the co-creation manager’s job: clarifying the concepts.
- 3) Explaining the concepts around value co-creation
When Pia Erkinheimo, former Head of Crowdsourcing at Nokia, was appointed, she had five things to do: Clarify and explain the concepts of crowdsourcing, set-up an innovative culture within Nokia i.e. organize internal crowdsourcing, find how to formulate the challenges and give feedback, try crowdsourcing providers and set-up collaboration methods, and communicate around the successes of collaboration with the crowd. As we can see, the first step in building this “systematic idea crowdsourcing capability in the context of open innovation” was to clarify the concepts.
To do that, Erkinheimo collaborated with researchers from Stanford University, Cornell University and Imperial College to write a whitepaper called “The Promise of Idea Crowdsourcing – Benefits , Contexts , Limitations.” This document explains what crowdsourcing is, how it can be used and what the benefits and limitations are. This work of clarification is crucial, especially when it comes to setting up the company’s general co-creation roadmap, which is another role of the co-creation manager. To go further, check out more visual representations of open innovation (as well as co-creation and crowdsourcing).
- 4) Establish and grow a partner network
Unilever’s current Open Innovation Portfolio & Scouting Director Roger Leech explained that “you need to define precisely what you want before you ask for it. And as solutions rarely come from a single individual or organization, the key is building a network of solutions partners that can work collaboratively around a specific project.” Strategic openness is all about finding partners to co-create value with.
These partners can be individuals, like inventors or creative individuals, who can be often accessed through crowdsourcing platforms and communities. In that case, the job of a co-creation manager is to identify the most suited intermediaries to work with in a variety of situations. In LinkedIn’s job offer to find a Crowdsourcing Program Manager, the company says that “the ideal candidate has the necessary experience of understand the trade-offs of working with crowdsourcing vendors.”
When the company is not looking for individuals, but for corporate partners, the process is slightly different. At Kraft Foods (now Mondelez), for example, the company sets up so-called Supplier Challenges. “We develop a challenge brief […] and then engage suppliers to innovate against that brief,” Steve Goers explained. “They have a period of time to develop a finished product or package innovation. They come back to Kraft and showcase their potential solutions with the management team.”
At General Mills, the best practice is also to organize and attend events to meet and reach suppliers. “We organize Supplier Summits to bring together our top suppliers to network, hear about the company’s business strategies and learn about specific partnership opportunities,” Belairs explained. “We go to open innovation conferences and talk specifically about our effort and the fact that we are open to innovation and looking for partners. So, we have a number of different ways that we’re trying to reach out and build additional relationships,” says the Senior Director of the company’s innovation network, G-Win.
The future for co-creation managers
The more strategic open innovation and co-creation is, the more companies need dedicated people to manage it. “There are a whole set of new skills and capabilities that organizations require to tap the potential of distributed value creation,” says Ross Dawson, futurist and author.
Recent job openings like the ones at Lego and LinkedIn showed that there is an increasing need for people with “extensive experience in organizing and executing crowdsourcing projects,” who can manage collaboration with a diverse set of external stakeholders. Chances are that these people are (still) very rare and thus could be in very high demand in the near future.
François Pétavy, CEO of market leading co-creation platform eYeka, thinks that co-creation management will be one of the growing job trends of the future: “Co-creating with external stakeholders is the new frontier of innovation. To succeed, companies require exceptional managers who know how to drive mindset change and interface with highly creative individuals, experts or organizations that are not bound by corporate rules.
If you are looking to become a co-creation manager or add this competency to your CV, look back at the rise in popularity of social media. It was below the radar of most wannabe marketers before it became a must-have requirement to be hired as such. Start building knowledge and practical experience now to standout before everyone claims to be a co-creation expert. The know-how required can be acquired through practical experience but the diplomatic skills and the open-mind required need longer time to develop. And these cannot be crowdsourced as of yet.
Sources: Can crowdsourcing really crack corporate sustainability? (Guardian Professional Network), Building from the outside in (The Irish Times), Kraft-ed innovation (Packaging Digest), I was an open innovation sceptic (Taste of General Mills), A new approach to open innovation (Taste of General Mills), Improved packaging through collaboration (Taste of General Mills), Lego’s Open Innovation Strategy (15inno), Interview with Steve Goers and Nanako Mura (Innovate1st), The importance of internal alignment for open innovation (Openinnovatie.nl)
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Yannig Roth graduated in marketing and is currently Research Fellow at eYeka and PhD student at University Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris (France). His main research interests are creative crowdsourcing and community co-creation. Yannig regularly blogs at https://yannigroth.wordpress.com