One of Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous quotes was about the kind of house he wanted “with all its windows and doors open where the cultural breezes of all lands and nations blow through...” It’s a concept that is being increasingly embraced by the corporate world. Last week, the Mahindra Group launched India’s biggest innovation prize—the ‘Rise Prize’ which offers $1 million for ideas and innovations involving the ‘Mobility Challenge’, which invites solutions for driverless cars in India, and the Solar Challenge for solar energy products that have a wider application in the country. The prize is part of Mahindra’s ‘Spark the Rise’ initiative that looks to catalyse innovation and entrepreneurship through a collaborative approach. Anand Mahindra is taking a leaf from the Proctor & Gamble corporate playbook. As per Larry Huston, a senior fellow at Wharton’s Mack Center for Technological Innovation: “Innovative companies don’t care where ideas come from.” He adds that future competitive advantage will depend on “innovation networks”—individuals and organisations outside a company that can help it solve problems and find new ideas for creating growth. Huston was vice president of knowledge and innovation for many years at Procter & Gamble, where he was the architect of its Connect+Develop programme, an approach that helped extend the company’s innovation process to include 1.5 million people outside of P&G.
This ‘open innovation’ concept is not new but has received increasing attention in recent years as more companies announce initiatives to open up their methods of generating new products. P&G is viewed as a leader in open innovation, and established its Connect+Develop programme more than a decade ago. In February, 2014. it went a step further, launching a new website designed to make collaboration with inventors outside the company more efficient. Where P&G is, can Unilever be far behind? The world’s second-biggest consumer-products maker, also has a website to gather and assess ideas from outside the company as it looks to bolster sales from new products. Some companies even have a designation for the people who run the programme. Roger Leech is Unilever’s Open Innovation Scouting director. Since Unilever established its open innovation unit in 2009, the share of external ideas that are adopted by the company has increased from 25% to 60%. For companies, it’s a way of not just inviting new ideas that they can work on, but also reducing their own R&D bills. In auto companies, for instance,