What is ‘open innovation’, and how can it help your business grow?

What is ‘open innovation’, and how can it help your business grow?

James Layfield, CEO of Central Working, which brings companies together to work collaboratively, discusses the business growth possibilities of a problem shared…

“Forget everything you thought you knew about how businesses should go about solving problems. A growing number of forward-thinking businesses have seized upon a whole new way of working collaboratively to problem solve, and it is producing some astonishing results. It’s called open innovation and as the name suggests, it is based on the idea of businesses working together to share their knowledge, talent and their ideas in an open, transparent way to produce something special. And it is transforming the way business operates.

“The idea of working collaboratively has long been embraced by small innovative start-ups, but what makes the idea of open innovation so exciting is that it is now increasingly being taken up by large corporates too.

“As one of the pioneers of flexible working and shared workspace, Central Working is playing a key role in bringing together big business and small entrepreneurial start-ups so that they can work together and learn from each other. We have already created partnerships with corporates such as Microsoft and the NHS so they can interact and learn from entrepreneurial start-ups and many more partnerships are in the pipeline as we increasingly act a bridge between corporates and entrepreneurs.

“Collaborative working is not about simply sticking people in a room and telling them to work together. That isn’t nearly enough. In order to make it effective you also need to put in place a real structure. That’s exactly what we have been doing and the results are amazing. When the right structure is in place, we have found that businesses can really benefit from working together in an open, sharing way.

“At its most basic level that means bringing together big businesses looking for solutions to specific problems with entrepreneurs who we think either have the answer or else will be able to lead the way to it. It is incredible what can be achieved in the space of a half hour meeting if the right connection is made.

“Many big firms have built walls around themselves to stop people coming to do business with them, but by working this way we can act as a filter and safely net for them to be able find the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs they need to help them. This isn’t about everyone turning up for some quick networking drinks, handing out business cards and then moving on. This is about forging deep, lasting relationships so that companies really get to know each other – and each other’s businesses – well, and as a consequence can really add value to each other.

“One reason why open innovation works so well is that businesses of all sizes are increasingly moving towards the idea of doing one single thing really well, so consequently they are then open to the idea of working with someone else for the other elements. The idea stems from the way that entrepreneurial start-ups tend to operate and it makes a lot of sense. The idea of organisations pretending to be good at everything is actually quite an old fashioned approach to doing business because, of course, in reality no one firm can be good at everything.

“Citymapper, for example, has created a transport app for iPhone and Android which is brilliant at the specific job of guiding someone around London or New York – it is unrivalled at doing this one thing really well. Ask it to get you round Hull however and it will be useless at it. The idea of being über good at a niche is without doubt the way that markets are expanding.

“It can of course be really challenging for a large corporate to radically rethink the whole way it finds solutions to problems and answers to innovation. Big businesses are more used to trying to solve problems on their own, cloaked in secrecy behind closed doors. So the idea of actually asking for help – and from companies which are often so much smaller than themselves – can be hard to accept. Psychologically this is a massive hurdle for them to overcome, because everything they all know up to this point is about hiding and whispering, the antithesis of what open innovation is about.

“But, as the forward thinking corporates we’ve been involved with will confirm, it is well worth the radical shift in approach – because it actually works. We have watched as corporates have embraced this open way of working and we have seen within the space of six months the way it has led to new products being developed and new directions being taken.

“Quite simply, open innovation gets businesses where they want to be, faster and with a better outcome. It really doesn’t get much better than that.”

WATCH: James Layfield explains the idea behind his business Central Working

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