What’s hot in the world of open innovation ecosystems’ leadership - Explore Spinverse’s recent leadership study in a nutshell

What does an open innovation ecosystem mean?
When and why is an open innovation ecosystem an effective way to cooperate and create something new?
What kind of leadership makes an open innovation ecosystem successful?

In this blog article you will get a sneak peek into the mind of a leader in a successful innovation ecosystem project.

Today we are experiencing an open innovation ecosystem boom. In May 2016, we at Spinverse started a research project on the leadership of innovation ecosystems. By going through literature, benchmarking studies, attending conferences, interviewing stakeholders and applying our experts' own deep experience in the field, our research group dug into the subject.

As a result, we are able to share with you what’s hot in the world of open innovation ecosystems’ leadership.

What is an open innovation ecosystem?

An ecosystem itself means an organized group of participants: companies, organizations and individuals – that gather together to create new value to the customers. An open innovation ecosystem in turn is usually a versatile group of participants that focuses on creating business growth on novel, often radical innovations by co-developing the ideas further. The eventual goal of an innovation ecosystem is to give birth to a new business ecosystem.

In the very beginning of the life-cycle of an innovation ecosystem, there is usually one company that has the first idea for a disruptive innovation. They often need partners to co-create it further. They engage with one or two potential partners and share their thinking. The number of core partners is often limited while the initial idea is developed further. In the course of time, new partners may join, some may leave. Eventually the innovation ecosystem starts to produce results that will ideally expand the whole ecosystem into a commercial stage where the ecosystem transforms into a business ecosystem.

When and why is forming an open innovation ecosystem a timely thing to do?

Forming an open innovation ecosystem is best suitable for an organization that has a radical idea and needs a platform to create commercial value from the idea. Disrupting the market with a breakthrough solution often requires joining forces with other organizations sharing the same or similar vision, but different expertise. Forming an ecosystem helps these organizations to renew their current business, cooperate with others and perhaps test if their ideas are mature enough to become new products.

What kind of value do we at Spinverse bring into these ensembles?

Through our experience and expertise in innovation ecosystems we guide our customers by helping them to understand the real needs their ideal customers may have. We find them the right partners, co-create efficient governance and business models, identify and apply funding, and most importantly, offer our extensive leadership skills for the project.

Now here’s the scoop: How to lead a successful innovation ecosystem project?

Typical partners forming an innovation ecosystem may vary from researchers to company business developers to sales people. Naturally, the stakeholders may have very different strategic directions, cultures and sets of rules. Since the ecosystem leader does not have a formal authority over the participants, an innovation ecosystem is also a loose organization from a juridical point of view. All this makes leading an innovation ecosystem rather complex, but ever so intriguing task.

According to our research, you can find six key elements on the ecosystem leader’s desktop when building the trust between the partners and leading a successful innovation ecosystem:

1. The strategy – A Joint Vision with a dream team of partners

At first, organizations that participate in the open innovation ecosystem need a shared vision and a strategy. The ecosystem strategy clarifies the shared focus, the aim and most importantly, how each partner organization plans to do business with the result of the project. In short, we want to set up a dream team for the ecosystem. Partners need to know why they are involved and what is expected from each partner in order to co-create the innovation. This is where a person or an organization acting as a mediator or an ecosystem leader can add great value.

2. Business models – Co-creating win-win business models

By nature, innovation ecosystems aim to produce breakthrough innovations. Describing how each partner benefits from the cooperation and plans to do business as a result of the cooperation is of great worth. Spending time on these discussions and negotiations early on will build trust among partners and help prevent unpleasant surprises.

3. Operational models – Setting transparent and clear enough roles and responsibilities

At the beginning, it is important to agree on a mutual operational model in order to avoid inefficiencies due to overlapping or outstanding tasks and conflicts. In the best case, the varying roles complement each other and strengthen trust. A mutual operational model includes definitions of the decision-making forums such as the steering group and clarifies which decisions are needed to take during the cooperation.

4. Leadership – Leading in complexity

Leading complex ecosystems requires simple guiding principles, that enable self-organized cooperation and fast execution. If the leadership is poor, participation slows down, the motivation and morale decrease and in worst case, critical partners in the ecosystem leave resulting in activities coming to a halt. Therefore – describing interdependencies among partners in the ecosystem projects is important. In general, the dependencies between the participants must be beneficial. They strengthen the engagement to the goals and drive collaboration.

5. Communication – Supporting interaction and dialogue between the partners

The innovation ecosystem leadership means also supporting the interaction and dialogue between the partners. Proper communication brings clarity about complicated and challenging issues that take place all the time in the innovation ecosystems. If leading a single organization is challenging, think about leading a diverse, multiparty temporal meta-organization! The ecosystem leadership requires sensitivity, excellent communication skills and great leadership competencies.

6. Managing a balance between discipline and creativity

An intermediate ecosystem leader plays a significant role in bridging the partners together and orchestrating the ecosystem with a right balance between discipline and creativity. An efficient way to lead an ecosystem is a balanced combination of project management and leadership of complex systems.

Based on our study and experience, we recommend that innovation ecosystem participants pay careful attention on these six key leadership elements. We believe the aforementioned success factors help innovative companies and organizations to renew their business and R&D&I work.