Management Forum: Innovation is no longer a well kept secret

In the future, customers and suppliers will help to develop new products.

Quelle: Public Domain
Quelle: Public Domain

DÜSSELDORF. R&D departments are facing a revolution. To date, companies strongly shield innovations until market introduction. But from now on: “Opening up the innovation process is the megatrend” says Oliver Gassmann from St. Gallen University. Innovation departments ask their customers what they want first and involve their suppliers on what they would contribute at the very beginning of the development process. Only thereafter and sometimes in a joint approach the development for a new product is initiated.


This reflects the consistent opinion of leading management professors from America, Asia, and Europe. Open innovation networks are the future. Entrenching oneself in the laboratory fearing plagiarism is absolutely outdated. This is the result of the third Handelsblatt Management-Forum that has been elaborated in cooperation with the management consultancy Santiago Advisors and professor Ronny Fürst (European Management School).

Current focus: Innovation.

The subject is tackled very differently in Asia in contrast to America and Europe. According to the survey, western nations highly value the creation of an innovation enhancing culture. The participating professors criticize the lack of creative space in the corporate world. Other surveys stress the relevance of professionally structured R&D organizations. In contrast the Handelsblatt Management-Forum scholars emphasize the disadvantages of not going beyond the limits of the own organization leaving considerable innovation potential unutilized because it is outside the companies’ R&D department.

Asians locate the deficit rather in missing openness towards external input than in culture. Therefore companies who integrate suppliers, customers as well as scholars into R&D are more effective and successful. Porsche is a good example for that: A major part of the sports car manufacturer’s basic research is supported by university graduates and students. Starbucks is often quoted as best practice example for customer integration. Using their online appearance for the interaction with customers, new flavors for their shops are pursued. Customers propose new flavors, others test and evaluate. “By now it is common practice for a great number of companies to get new products evaluated in the web”, says Santiago partner Christian Prinz zu Salm-Horstmar. Even social networks like Facebook

are used for this purpose.

The use of the internet enables the early integration of comments and product requirements into the development process. “Basically, innovative companies escort customers directly in the research laboratory’s VIP lounge without any checking at the doorman” says professor Fürst. Still remains the fear to loose market advantage due to a too early revelation of sensible information. Chinese managers negate this problem because in the Far East a perfect copy is respected and not condemnable plagiarism. “If I arrive at the conclusion that I cannot protect my intellectual property, I should consider the advantages of open networks”, says professor Fürst. “If you provide information, you also will gain new information”.

In the automotive industry strategic innovation partnerships are very usual. OEMs and suppliers exchange highly sensible data and guard intellectual property by complex legal frameworks. So far these networks mainly exist in the Western hemisphere. That will change. The development of new products and services will be accomplished on a more global scale, according to the survey. On the other hand: A European blockbuster might as well be a shelf warmer in Asia. Steering is increasingly complex, says consultant Salm. “Different customer expectations and cultural requirements in Asia, America, and Europe ask for tailored processes, structures and leadership tools.”

Example from the automotive industry: It is not the uniform European or American car that creates sensation. Emerging markets require their own, less high-technology models like in India. Adapted-technology and tailored-budget cars like Tata’s “Nano” are in fashion. In contrast the new and expensive electric sports cars from Tesla are a typical product for well-off customers from the sun state California.

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