Your Open Innovation Program is Going to Fail. Here’s Why.

First off, it’s not your fault.

We’ve all read the articles extolling the virtues of lean start-up; empowering internal employees to experiment and bring forth new products and services. We want our employees to feel engaged, and have an outlet to share their recommendations and suggestions. How could having passionate people contribute ideas for the betterment of your organization be a bad thing?

Indeed, countless idea management platforms have cropped up to help you manage all these wonderful internally-sourced ideas. But if your innovation strategy is to rely on the employees you already have in-house to magically bring to market disruptive new business ides, you’re guaranteed to be disappointed. Here are three reasons why.

1. Your employees are going to do the job you pay them to do.

When you staffed your company, no doubt you hired the best person for the position you posted. You set objectives, and the expectation they’d meet those objectives. These could be related to closing more business, lowering churn rates, or increasing your NPS. Your employees are measured by these established performance metrics.

Giving them the “opportunity” to “innovate” may seem like a perk, but really it serves as a distraction from the job you expect them to do. When it comes to crunch time, most of us will default to doing what we’re good at, and/or hired to do. (Ideally, these are one and the same!)


Employees are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Set them up for success.

2. Ideas are cheap, but can exact a cost on morale

Everyone has been in a brainstorming session filled with the exciting “what-ifs” of possibility. But unless there are some parameters around scope, and an established process to move ideas forward, generating a giant backlog will only decrease motivation and stifle creativity.

The popular Kanban approach to software development includes the concepts of enforcing “work-in-progress” limits and focusing on flow. A single brainstorming session could generate hundreds of ideas, which then loom over the organization as a sign of “what we want to do, but can’t” (yet? ever?).

Without a commitment to regularly push vetted ideas through validation to commercialization, you’re engaging in “non-value-added work”, and we don’t want that, do we?

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he identifies three big motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Encouraging employees to contribute to a mountain of possibilities that will likely never get accomplished is alarmingly demoralizing.

Ideas are cheap, but can exact a cost on morale. Click To Tweet

3. There are no bad ideas, just.. oh wait, maybe there are

Strategy is the plan of how an organization will differentiate itself from competitors to ensure success. An idea can only be considered in the context of the organization’s strategy, capabilities, and goals. So no, there are no bad ideas, there are just ideas that may not be the right fit for your company.


Cheetos? OK. Lip Balm? OK. Cheetos-flavored lip-balm? Naaaah.

Who decides what makes sense and what doesn’t? Your company has limited resources, and establishing a way to evaluate and compare prospective projects is a daunting task. At ReadyTalk we adopted an Innovation Options approach based off work done by David Binetti, which required some financial wizardry to implement.

Without clear guidance about strategic imperatives and required project returns (and guidance on how to calculate them), the organization is putting employees in a position to forge a path to an unknown destination, without any resources to get there.

Challenging your employees is good: setting them up to fail isn’t.

Wait, you may be saying.

Revisiting our incentives and ensuring we have a clear vetting process are things we can do. These problems aren’t insurmountable.

You’re right. With a conscious commitment to innovation and a supporting culture shift, these challenges fade away. But only if you’re ready — really ready — to invest in innovation beyond a software license and a few scheduled brainstorming sessions.

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