Roland Harwood recently elaborated on the concept of oblique innovation strategies in his post on the 100%Open blog, which I highly recommend following. By giving an honest review of John Kay’s book, “Obliquity” Harwood goes on to state his belief that companies can become more innovative obliquely by becoming a more open business.

obliquity,innovation,john kay,randy giusto,new digital cafeBecoming more open can occur in many ways — through partners, suppliers, and customers with the focus on “frequent communication and sharing challenges, data, or even resources in a managed ways,” according to Harwood.

I see examples of this in many types of companies. Management consulting firms are the first ones that come to mind, as many have their own innovation groups that provide services to some of their biggest clients. Their business model also includes integrating both data and resources with their clients, so that innovation can become more oblique between the client and the consultant. Startups and nimble digital economy firms also seem to be more open than more traditional businesses.

Harwood also states that “building an open business is not easy.” This is very true. Companies that have a long history of being closed, proprietary, where security is a top priority, and whose culture is not dynamic and is slow to change find it especially hard to re-spark their innovation engine. He provides some good examples of creativity techniques as well that might help some firms stimulate their innovation engines.

But as I have pointed out in my previous post about “The Difference Between Innovation and Invention,” there are still misperceptions between the two. Innovation can still come from subtle changes in existing tools that lead to success. Those tools can be anything. That innovation doesn’t have to be in the form or a new product or service, it can come in the form of a business process, an approach, a new strategy, or in internal efficiencies.

I don’t think you would disagree that Apple is an innovative company. But is it an open one? Hardly! It’s not even open inside its walls. And yet it has thrived. Though Apple is now mature to where it will experience some of the same things more traditional brands are faced with — the challenge to innovate more radically, managing a large and growing base of customers and their own expectations, and finding new ways to thrive. Still Apple may be an anomaly in the corporate world.

Other brands are still stuck and can’t make the next leap in this post-digital economy we now find ourselves in. So they struggle with being innovative again, while bigger innovation strides are being made by startups that eventually get gobbled up by big brands. Once integrated that innovation either survives or flames out, and the brand has to continue to innovate through more acquisitions. Or if it can, like Harwood postulates, become more open.

Yes, creating a more open business allows firms to be more innovative obliquely. And somehow I think startups are more hardwired to be this way, than other brands in this post-digital economy.

– Randy Giusto