In a pre-Internet, highly connected world, innovation was a privileged, sheltered activity.

Its arcane magic was practised in airtight spaces, its mandates handed down from the top, and its activities protected and constrained through tightly controlled access, information lock-down and long innovation cycles that were often unanswerable to product lifecycle agendas and customer needs.

Free for all

Then came hyper-connectivity: Web 2.0 technologies empowered consumer interaction. Social and collaborative applications enriched communications and engagement, enabling high-impact customer feedback. Digitisation made access to brands instantaneous.

This forever changed innovation – speeding up its workflows and outcomes and exposing it to interests across the organisation and outside it.

Dignified men in lab coats now had to endure the impatient gaze of marketers, designers and developers and compete with the mushrooming oeuvre of online inventors, collaborating in their tens of thousands in brilliant hive-mind projects.

Software was famously up-ended by open source collaboration, but crowd-sourcing has permeated closed environments everywhere. In addition, the wiki content model has single-handedly democratised knowledge creation and delivery, and can reasonably be expected to fix news, now that fakery has broken that model of privileged, sheltered and potentially biased news reporting too.

If you can’t beat them

In short, most things can be crowd-sourced. Why not innovation? To beat back the rapidly advancing leading edge (fuelled by open innovation), corporates must themselves embrace the economies of scale, speed and richness of partnership-based innovation.

Against expectations, perhaps, the first partners you should look for are inside your organisation. An Amazon employee was responsible for the watershed innovation of free shipping, which was later developed into the Prime loyalty programme. To unearth these gems inside your own organisation, bring back the suggestion box and foster collaboration between operating siloes.

Consumers are themselves a major source of innovation. Lego’s Mindstorms encourage hobbyists to let their imaginations run wild, with fantastic results for the company.

But most open innovation happens through partnerships with external entities – from commercial partners to universities and research institutes. Larger companies seeking to rekindle an entrepreneurial spark often partner with smaller, more nimble companies. The benefit for smaller partners is better access to new markets, specialist skills and more expensive technologies, which help fuel their growth.

Whoever your target partner is, create and maintain a culture of rapid and scalable innovation through partnership by enhancing collaboration and community, and running open innovation engagements with external sources of innovation, but be prepared to share fairly in the benefits of the outcomes.