Open Innovation: Does it work?

Open innovation is a big trend today in innovation management. Where are its strengths and limitations? A discussion with Atizo.

Today, I had a long chat with Isabel Steiner and Sabine Hofer from Atizo, an entrepreneurial platform for open innovation. Atizo is a platform where companies can post a question to a crowd to get more and better solutions. This is called open innovation since you are not looking inside your own firm for ideas but to a broader spectrum of people. Some call it crowd sourcing for ideas.

The idea behind open innovation is fascinating. With Atizo, you can address more than 8.000 people with ¾ with academic background to look for fresh ideas. The biggest advantage besides the size of crowd of the “innovators” is the fresh viewpoint on the problem. You take advantage that the innovators do not know the way you always have solved the problem in the past; they are not stuck with your dominant logic.

Atizo’s platform allows companies to generate ideas, evaluate ideas and develop the ideas into marketable concepts.

The idea funnel from Atizo

Depending from your scope you want to use, you can use either the whole crowd, a subsection of your customer and clients if you are a business or you can just invite your closest community for the innovation project.

The different crowds to source from at Atizo

Due to these strengths, open innovation became a huge success in the last years. Well-regarded firms like Swisscom, Mammut, Google or BMW have used Atizo’s platform for open innovation to find new solutions.

So, is Atizo a success?

Success Story Atizo

Yes, since most customers were positively surprised about the quality of the solution. The open innovation idea works. The open innovation platform is fast and cheap to generate idea.

However, as every innovator knows, having even great ideas is not enough. Ideas have to be implemented in the firm AND adopted by the customers. First, implementation in the firm is already difficult since so many impediments like lacking resources; different priorities of top management, wrong corporate culture, Not-invented-here syndrome etc. can and will mostly likely kill the idea.

Secondly, an innovation is not what you think it is, but what the customer adopts. Therefore, from the many great ideas only few have seen the market. The classic dilemma of all innovators.

It is the question, stupid!

Moreover, what Atizo also figures out is how important it is which question you ask. Quite often, the question is very closed and so narrowly defined that the ideas are typical MOTS ideas (more-of-the-same). Nevertheless, do not criticize the ideas and solutions. The problem is with the questions. These questions are so framed by the dominant logic of the current business that really break-through ideas cannot be found. This is the same criticism I have already raised in the case of “Design Thinking”. If you ask the wrong questions, you get irrelevant answers.

Solution anybody?

So we discussed how better questions can be asked. One option is to amend the open innovation process with a phase where the crowd can deliver insights into unsolved problems they see with a current solution. They could deliver insights in the jobs that are still unsolved. Moreover, with these fresh insights even better solutions and ideas could be found. Any other idea?


  1. But you don’t know what you don’t know, so asking the crowd will only generate answers to known questions and understood needs. Twitter (perhaps not yet a great example though I still hold out hope) for example, would not have happened if answers to the question “what do you want?” were the only ones you got……

  2. @ Jo: Good point! Or as I read somewhere else: ‘I’m not sure who invented water, but I’m sure it wasn’t a fish’…

    Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO and author of “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation” would state that you need to observe people doing things and then you’ll come up easily with a lot of tough questions to ask…

  3. @Walter
    I like your statement about observation. In my opinion, it is very important not to ask customers but to start a conversation with him/her to understand better the deeper motivation. I use the Jobs-to-be done method and the customer utility map to get better and deeper insights into the customer behavior and motivation. And observation is very important to strike a meaningful conversation.

  4. @Walter
    Whilst the correct questions can be found by observation, its probably only going to yield an incremental change to a product/service. Observation will always look to improve a user experience, but will probably be fruitless at innovating a breakthrough product.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *