Henry Chesbrough on “Open Innovation”

Henry Chesbrough is an American organizational theorist, adjunct professor and the executive director of the Harwood Center for Corporate Innovation at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is best known for his work on open innovation, a term that he helped popularize. An adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business, at the University of California, Berkeley, his published works include Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (2003), Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm (Co-edited with Wim Vanhaverbeke and Joel West (2006), and Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era (2011).

Briefly, the great corporate research departments at companies like Bell Labs, IBM and Xerox were once the motor of American industry. But that may be changing, according to this probing academic study of corporate technological innovation. Chesbrough, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, argues that the old “closed innovation” model-vertically integrated research-and-development departments that develop technology in-house for the sole use of their corporate parent-is becoming obsolete in an age of mobile scientific workers, ubiquitous high-tech startups and a growing extra-corporate research establishment at university labs.

Modern technology powerhouses like Cisco and Microsoft do little of their own basic research, he reports; instead they have dropped the “do-it-all-yourself” approach and pioneered a new model of “open innovation,” in which companies import ideas from without and let their own innovations enter the wider marketplace. Drawing on case studies of companies like Lucent and Intel, Chesbrough suggests that companies make themselves more permeable to the flow of knowledge through such strategies as hiring professors and grad students as summer consultants, sponsoring university research, investing in and partnering with high-tech startups and venture capitalists, and disseminating their own innovations through spin-off companies or even by publishing it in the public domain. Chesbrough’s sophisticated but highly readable discussion of these complex issues will give managers much food for thought.

The open approach is literally that “open.” In practice, it is inclusive, collaborative, and self-directing. For example, Linus Torvalds transformed technology twice — first with the Linux kernel, which helps power the Internet, and again with Git, the source code management system used by developers worldwide. In a rare interview with TED Curator Chris Anderson, Torvalds discusses with remarkable openness the personality traits that prompted his unique philosophy of work, engineering and life. “I am not a visionary, I’m an engineer,” Torvalds says. “I’m perfectly happy with all the people who are walking around and just staring at the clouds … but I’m looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that’s right in front of me before I fall in.”

To learn more about Chesbrough and his brilliant work, please click here.

You may wish to check out my interviews of him:

Link to first interview

Link to second interview

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