Professor Bill Fischer, IMD
Caption: Bill Fischer
Bill Fischer is Professor of Technology Management at IMD Business School, Switzerland. He is the co-author of The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make them Happen.
His areas of special interest include: Management of technology, including management of the creative processes within R&D; The creation and coordination of an international technology presence; Technology transfer
Professor Fischer has been actively involved in technology-related activities his entire professional career. He was a development engineer in the American steel industry; an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers; and has also consulted on R&D and technology issues in industries such as: pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, textiles and apparel, and packaging. Additionally, he has served as a consultant to a number of government and international-aid agencies on issues relating to the management of science and technology.
Professor Fischer has won several awards for teaching excellence from the American Institute of Decision Sciences, and in case-writing from the European Foundation for Management Development.
Free of "fear" of losing control, and co-create
Younomy: Though co-creation as a term was coined recently, it is my understanding that co-creation has been practiced all along. To cite a specific case, the muscle man logo of $ 1 billion MRF Tyres - India's number one tyre company - was born out of traditional way of crowd-sourcing - the MRF team interviewed truck drivers on Indian roads before coming up with the muscle man symbol. Do you have some specific examples of co-creation - especially in coming up with new product ideas - from the by-gone era to prove that co-creation is not about technology but more about managerial attitude?
Bill Fischer:I have to tell you that this is a really great question! I had never really thought about this and so I tried a bit of “crowdsourcing” of my own and turned to Google. There, on a blog site entitled “Design Crowd”. I found several wonderful illustrations of crowdsourcing that well-predated our current enthusiasm for it. The lesson that I took from this is that we should not be so “infatuated” with our “newest and best” idea, because it has probably been thought of by someone else, in some other form, at some earlier point in time.
In 1714, for example, the British government offered the equivalent of nearly $25 million for contributions to precise and simple ways of determining longitude (John Harrison won the most celebrated of these). In 1936, Toyota received 27,000 contributions from which their corporate logo was determined. And, finally, Design Crowd offered the winning design for the Sydney Opera House from 233 entries from 32 different countries as yet another illustration of crowdsourcing.
What is so impressive about each of these examples is -- using your words == the “managerial attitude” -- that had to be common in all three experiences: a recognition that more minds are better than fewer; a willingness to trust others, even outsiders, to help in the making of “big” decisions; and an apparent absence of “unease” in allowing this process to be inclusive. When you think about the magnitude of the choices involved, and the visibility of the outcomes, this is truly impressive.
Younomy:What in your opinion are the macro-level driving factors of co-creation? Why it was alright for companies to focus on closed-door innovation till yesterday and how it open-innovation has become a business imperative all of a sudden?
Bill Fischer: There are three driving forces that strike me as being central to all of this: 1. an imperative of speed: the clock speed of industrial change is accelerating to a level where it has become obvious that “we can’t do it all by ourselves,” and/or “we can’t do it fast enough if we rely only upon ourselves.” And, with a morphing of industry boundaries, change is not only happening faster but it is coming at us from all directions. In many instances, the sources of challenges are from so far outside of our traditional ways of working that they might as well be “invisible.”
2. the acceleration of technologies (particularly information technology) that have both created both an awareness of the vibrancy of other people’s ideas and a means of accessing them.
3. globalization: which has profoundly changed our map of the world. The very fact that we are having this conversation is a testament to the power of globalization to put people into a position where they can geographically enlarge their conversational space in the pursuit of new ideas.
Your second question, however, is more interesting to me: “do I think that it was alright for companies to focus on ‘closed-door’ Innovation in the past?” In fact, I believe that great innovators have always had a curiosity about other people’s ideas and a talent for finding them. Thomas Edison, for example, was a relentless “idea hunter;” Charles Darwin and Joseph Priestly [one of the discoverers of oxygen], typified the very active informal collaboration that characterized much of 18th and 19th century discovery. Both belonged to highly interactive scientific communities where ideas moved rapidly from correspondent to correspondent, being improved at every step.
When corporations became the source of much of our contemporary innovation, a reliance upon internal teams of innovators, a natural preoccupation with making the right R&D investment decisions, a desire to move products from concept to cash faster, and a concern for the protection of “intellectual property”, all conspired, probably unintentionally, to recast the vision of corporate innovators from outside of the organization to inside.
Obviously, if you believe in “the idea hunt,” any sort of inward refocusing is unfortunate, because it limits the idea-pool that innovators can draw from. I think, given the evidence of enormous technological progress during the 20th century, it would be presumptuous to say that “companies underachieved by accepting a focus on closed-door innovation,” but, in fact, it’s probably true.
Younomy: How social media or technology-enabled co-creation is maturing as an "applied management practice" such as lean, JIT, etc? Are there standards, best practices for industries evolving?
Bill Fischer: Social media and technology-enabled co-creation have the potential to profoundly change the way in which we innovate, and the sources of ideas that we innovate with. At the moment, open-innovation is more typically associated with B2C endeavors, but we are seeing a rapidly growing interest in B2B applications as well. I have no doubt that the future will be characterized by a much greater acceptance of collaborative innovation in most industries, and will become an “accepted management practice.”
My MIT colleague, Eric von Hippel, who is on the faculty members of the IMD-MIT partnership program Driving Strategic Innovation, has authored a book entitled Democratizing Innovation which I believe really captures the essence of open innovation.
What we are really doing is opening-up participation in the innovation process to a variety of non-traditional partners who can bring new ideas and insights to the task at hand. I suspect that as the “Facebook generation” kids become assimilated into the industrial workforce, reliance upon collaborative innovation will become second-nature and we will never really experience the sort of formalization process that accompanied “lean,” or JIT. Truly “democratic innovation” should benefit us all.
Younomy: As you had pointed out in your article for Forbes, a co-created offering - whether it is a product or service - stand a good chance to gain customer's acceptance and commercial success. However, what are the pre-requisites for companies to get into co-creation? For instance, they may have to be open about their business processes and be open about their business problems, etc that could damage their reputation, blunt their competitive edge?
Bill Fischer: An ability to suspend “fear” of a loss of control, and/or a loss of intellectual property, is the single most important prerequisite for doing co-creation in my experience; and my impression is that fear of loss of control is a lot more threatening than are IP issues. Most of the managers that I work with have succeeded because they have relied primarily on themselves. The very idea of allowing others, particularly “strangers”, to play a major role in the success or failure of an innovative effort has been paralyzing for the people that I’ve observed. But, if they can overcome that fear, they open themselves up to a whole new world of exciting, non-traditional possibilities. In fact, open-source innovation/co-creation promises to be the next big competitive advantage for those firms who are able to overcome their fears.
Younomy: Dell's Idea Storm crowd sources product ideas and also lets people vote product ideas - a kind of crowd-filtering of ideas. What are the best practices in dealing with or filtering crowd sourced ideas?
Bill Fischer: There are lots of people who have a lot more expertise in this subject than I do, but let me share some thoughts with you on this. The easier that you can make it for people to help you create, the more likely you are to have successful results.
General Electric Corporation’s Ecomagination Challenge, for example, made it extremely easy to build on the ideas of others; Lego’s Mindstorms has templates, prototype-facilitators, and product handbooks that make it easier for the crowdsourced collaborators to offer their suggestions into the Lego-world.
My sense is that ease of access, templates for an easier fit into the targeted outcomes, sharing of other submissions, and a welcoming-site that provides guidance and examples, are all components of good crowd-sourcing practice.
Younomy: Companies are keen to identify and engage the web participants: bloggers, tweeters, etc who are influential in the social media conversations of a particular domain to make their crowd sourcing and co-creation campaigns successful. Intel calls these web participants "Intel Insiders". What do you see is the role of these transcendental staff - outsiders, yet insiders (or the importance of business to blogger partnerships) in helping companies crowd source product ideas?
Bill Fischer: I mentioned Eric von Hippel earlier in connection with our Driving Strategic Innovation program. Eric is the originator of the “Lead User” concept, which I believe is at the very essence of open-innovation. “Lead Users” are non-traditional partners who are struggling with the very issues that an innovating firm will likely face in the future, even if they are not yet aware of it. “Lead Users” are before early adopters, and may never actually become customers, but they can contribute to the innovating firm’s insights and projects, if they are allowed to, out of a love for the game and a need to overcome frustrations with existing offerings that are on the market.
Younomy: You have worked with WHO for over fifteen years! What do you think are the co-creation possibilities in the health care industry? How co-creation can bring down the cost of healthcare, which is now being a global issue? With information empowerment, will there be an era of patientor (patient plus doctor - in the lines of prosumer - a mix of producer plus consumer)?
Bill Fischer: Healthcare should be a natural target of opportunity for co-creation innovation. The nature of such professional services are such that hierarchical barriers exist between patients and care-givers, as well as between professional colleagues; the intellectual barriers that frustrate the sharing of insights between such related but different intellectual pursuits as medicine and nutrition, not to mention other more “non-traditional” health care points of view; the opportunities for pre-and post-event activities to improve services and reduce costs; and the disparities in health-care provision that exist across the world; are all reasons why there is a need to involve more rather than fewer minds in innovative activities. I am hugely optimistic about what might be possible if we would only let more collaborators participate in co-creating the future of healthcare.