Open Innovation

The most interesting presentation at last week’s ACCTCanada Directors Forum was, in my opinion, on open innovation by Angus Livingstone, UILO at UBC. Much of the discussion by other presenters focused on patents and other control mechanisms, while Angus showed the shifting paradigms that we are experiencing in university knowledge transfer. He explained that the main shift over the next five years will be from closed to open innovation, in parallel with shifts from outputs to impacts and from transactions to relationships. Angus highlighted the old paradigm:

  • Patents
  • Licenses
  • Spin-offs
  • Proprietary industry research funding

and showed the new paradigm:

  • Industry engagement
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Knowledge mobilization

Since hearing that presentation and reflecting on the slides that Angus sent me, I came across Ed Morrison’s paper on how regional innovation clusters form. The initial step is to change the conversation.


The shifting conversation then encourages learning networks to develop, from which can emerge a concerted strategy for innovation. Ed calls the underlying activity, strategic doing:

Networks are complex adaptive systems. We can guide these networks, even manage them, if we follow simple rules. And that’s the point. We cannot guide complexity with complexity. Strategy in complex adaptive systems emerges from  following simple disciplines.

Both Angus Livingstone and Ed Morrison show that innovation is dependent on learning in networks. Social learning is about getting things done in networks. It is a constant flow of listening, observing, doing, and sharing. Effective working in networks requires cooperation, meaning there is no fixed plan, structure or direct feedback. Through social learning we can co-develop emergent practices. Social learning is how we move from transactions to relationships and foster knowledge mobilization.

Social learning is not some buzz word from the HR department but is a critical component in fostering innovation and hence prosperity. It’s the “how” of business innovation and is important for decision-makers to not only understand but to embrace by doing. This is why I say that work is learning and learning is the work. Life in perpetual Beta is what every leader and manager needs to understand today.

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