To succeed in the race for innovation, companies must change not only their internal organization but also their culture. A revolution that we are helping them achieve by promoting open innovation and cross-sector innovation within their teams.
The race for innovation is proceeding at a frantic pace across all business sectors. This is due to the sheer scale of the digital revolution, thanks to which new services, new practices and new business models are constantly emerging before our very eyes; but also due to the combined advances in other key scientific disciplines such as robotics, nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Companies are responding to these challenges by reassessing their organizational model. Many have set up an innovation department: according to Marc Giget, President of the European Institute for Creative Strategies and Innovation, only five CAC40 companies boasted an ‘Innovation Director’ in the early 2000s; today, almost all of them have one. Building labs, implementing internal challenges, organizing exploratory trips and hackathons: these new departments aim to boost innovation within their organizations. This is an important first step, but still not enough to keep up with the current changes.
A brief historical detour
At Mantu, we believe that innovation is not just about driving technological progress. Above all, it’s an approach, a state of mind: it’s doing what we’ve always done in a different way. This means taking a step back and thinking outside the box –in fact, this is nothing new! The Longitude Act is an interesting example in this respect.
In the 18th century, the United Kingdom’s political dominance rested on the power of its navy and its advanced knowledge of navigation techniques, but the methods for calculating longitude in the open sea were, in fact, still fairly basic. In 1707, Admiral Cloudesley Shovell set sail north of the Scilly Islands in foggy weather. Convinced that he was further offshore, he eventually ran aground, killing more than 2,000 men. In 1714, the British government introduced the Longitude Act, a law awarding a handsome prize of £20,000 (almost £4m today) to anyone who would succeed in developing a reliable method for calculating longitude to the nearest 0.5 degree.
In the end, it was a watchmaker, John Harrison, who got the most conclusive results in 1761. While all scientists were thinking in terms of lunar distances, Harrison was trying to build a high-precision clock that would keep the time of the original port and then establish longitude in relation to the height of the sun. His work led to the development of the first marine chronometer, which is still in use today.
Creating room for new business ideas
This short story says a lot about innovation. It clearly shows that innovative ideas are born as a result of keeping an open mind. In this case, firstly, being open to external expertise: by passing this law, the British government acknowledged that Crown scientists were unable to find a solution on their own, and called upon the expertise of the entire population of British scientists. Secondly, being open to other disciplines: at the time, scientists relied on astronomy to accurately calculate longitude, and would never have imagined that a humble watchmaker would be able to find the solution. These are also the defining elements of Open Innovation and Cross-Sector Innovation: far from being just trends, we can see how these approaches are essential for generating new ideas.
Cross-Sector Innovation: exploring new horizons
Cross-sector cooperation is not always encouraged in business. Many companies still operate in isolation, generally only interested in what is happening within their own field – think for instance of sector-specific confederations, mainly focused on defending the interests of their sector, be it retail or automotive. However, in many cases, solutions can be found in a field that has ostensibly nothing to do with their business.
This was the case for Orano (a global nuclear fuel cycle company), who, for several months, was unsuccessful in its efforts to develop new protective gloves for its operators, until their Research & Development department contacted to a snake hunting glove manufacturer. Together, they developed a new glove design, more flexible and adapted to the constraints of a nuclear environment. The first hurdle to overcome here was a shift in mindset: accepting that an external supplier in a field that, in theory, had no link to theirs could provide them with a solution.
The increasing drive for innovation in all areas of business today justifies the need for a cross-sector approach more than ever. There is a high chance your neighbour is developing a solution right now that could be even more useful to you than to them! With this in mind, we strive to promote cross-sector innovation both within our Group and with our clients. The support we provide to around twenty innovation departments of major industrial groups enables us to gather best practices in various sectors and identify new opportunities for all of them.
We have also implemented an internal structure within “Mantu” to facilitate cross-sector innovation. We greatly encourage interaction between teams working for different clients within the same sector around the world, but also between teams working in totally different sectors within the same offices.
Open Innovation:stronger together
Open Innovation, on the other hand, refers more broadly to the practice of seeking innovative solutions outside an organization. The concept, created in 2003 by Henry Chesbrough, Professor and Director of the Open Innovation Center at Berkeley University, is linked to the emergence of the knowledge society and the digital revolution. In Chesbourg’s own words, “it is a more distributed, more participatory, more decentralized approach to innovation, based on the observed fact that useful knowledge today is widely distributed, and no company, no matter how capable or how big, could innovate effectively on its own.”
Open Innovation challenges the old model of « closed innovation », in which innovation is exclusively developed internally by a company’s Research & Development department and ferociously defended by intellectual property rights. This model is set to disappear in a world where expertise is everywhere and everything is moving very fast.
Crowdsourcing ideas: co-creating solutions
At Mantu, we have made Open Innovation one of our key strategic drivers. We promote this approach, which consists in seeking partners to address a particular problem, co-create products, test solutions, and target multiple markets. Within our Studio, we incubated the start-up JEF Label, a platform that references more than 5000 innovative companies and has certified 270 of them, enabling us to put twenty industrial groups in contact with more than 1,000 potential partners. Thanks to this tool, French entertainment retail giant FNAC was able to work with start-up company BSIT to develop a service offering enabling to book childcare at the same time as buying a ticket for a show. Similarly, Les Sherpas, an online training site, has been able to establish a partnership with the broker AOC, specialized in insurance for expats.
We also created Innovation Factories, where we address our clients’ challenges in an open innovation environment, leveraging our ecosystem of start-up partners to provide solutions for them. We are able to capitalize on the skill sets of engineers or specialized researchers from all over the world, regardless of the topic.
A culture of openess
Cross-Sector Innovation and Open Innovation have one thing in common: they both show that innovation is a matter of culture, rather than corporate structures. This is why Innovation departments alone are no longer enough to drive innovation (even though they remain an essential catalyst). The private and public sectors can no longer keep essential information for themselves. To stay in the race, companies have no choice but to create a culture of openness and constant questioning, instilling this attitude within each of their departments, and building it into their strategy.