Open Business Models: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 21st, 2011 by bobmorris

Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape
Henry Chesbrough
Harvard Business Press (2006)

I

nnovation requires an open mind…and the courage to challenge “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

In preparation for my second interview of Henry Chesbrough, I recently re-read his Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology and then this book, first published in 2006, as well as his latest book, Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era (2011).

Chesbrough’s insights continue to be among the most influential throughout the business world within and especially beyond the United States.

What is an open business model? In Chapter 1, here’s Henry Chesbrough’s response to that question: “A business model performs two important functions: it creates value and it captures a portion of that value. It creates value by defining a series of activities from raw materials through to the final consumer that will yield a new product or service with value being added throughout the various activities. The business model captures value by by establishing a unique resource, asset, or position within that series of activities, where the firm enjoys a competitive advantage.”

Having thus established a frame-of-reference, Chesbrough continues: “An open business model uses this new division of innovation labor – both in the creation of value and in the capture of a portion of that value. Open models create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company’s own business model but also in other companies businesses.”

These two brief excerpts are provided because Chesbrough`s definitions of various terms are far clearer and more authoritative than mine could possibly be. Also, these excepts address the “what” so that in the balance of this brilliant book, Chesbrough can then focus almost entirely on the “why” and “how” concerning the design, implementation, modification, and performance measurement of open business models.

I was especially interested in what Chesbrough has to say about what several quite different exemplary companies — including IBM, Qualcomm, Genzyme, Procter & Gamble, and Chicago (the musical stage show and film) — share in common: “each started with an idea that traveled from invention to market through at least two different companies” which shared the work of innovation, and, all were assisted by effective management of an open business model. Chesbrough also devotes a substantial attention to IBM whose type 3 business model (i.e. multiple segmentations, “inside-out” mindset) reached a financial crisis in 1992. Had the IBM board not replaced its then CEO with Lou Gerstner and fully supported his leadership throughout an immensely complicated and equally difficult transformation, it is probable that IBM would not have survived. Gerstner deserves much of the credit for the success of that “cultural revolution” (as he once described it) but much credit should also be assigned to IBM’s open source business model.

Procter & Gamble is another company which completed an especially difficult transition from having internal staff members who protected (hoarded?) various technologies so that other companies, including potential competitors, could not use them to becoming a company with a much more open approach to innovation. Chesbrough notes that P&G began to pay much greater attention of external licensing of its technologies, (e.g. to BearingPoint), now strongly supports openly partnering for driving growth equity joint ventures (e.g. with Clorox), and an entirely new perspective on competitive advantage.

I also appreciate what is rarely provided in other business books: detailed notes (Pages 217-242) that are clustered per chapter. As I read them, it seemed as if Chesbrough were standing next to me, supplementing his narrative with additional comments that are always informative and frequently entertaining. What also struck me about Chesbrough’s notes is that they enable him to acknowledge various sources with appreciation and admiration. His was obviously an open source approach to the research for this book and then to the writing of it.

To thrive in the new innovation landscape, change agents must have both an open mind and the courage to challenge what James O’Toole characterizes, in Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” They would also be well-advised to absorb and digest the material in this book.

 

 

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