When Open Innovation leads to Collective Intelligence

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image23215672As far as we consider the Open Innovation and Collective Intelligence correlation, there is a common supposition that Collective Intelligence assumption culminates into Open Innovation initiatives, under certain conditions, of course.

But what if we reverse the equation? Does an Open Innovation (in general or a concrete initiative) lead to Collective Intelligence sprouting within the organisation ? When, if so? If we scrutinise the Open Innovation approaches, they seem all to conclude with placing the new product on the market, I think there is “life” beyond that.

In a recent article “The Achilles Heel of the Internet” we read:

The “wisdom” of the network depends on the number of nodes that exchange information, the number of connections between nodes and the strength of these connections. Collective intelligence is a phenomenon that arises from the aggregation of these factors.

The increase of the potential of collective intelligence is exponential. This means that in a hypothetical initial situation with few nodes and few connections, the increase is very slow and almost flat. At the time it reaches a critical mass of nodes and links, the increase of potential is triggered and the value of combining the pieces of information is much greater than the sum of these.”

Well, from my point of view Open Innovation has a very practical implication for Collective Intelligence creation within organisations. It’s impossible to overcome both information needs and information overload using only internal resources of few departments. There is an outbreak of Crowd-based initiatives, and new approaches for a next-generation innovation paradigm in the Digital Economy just link so called “Embedded Innovation”. But what we really need is to generate mecanisms and pipelines to use and re-use the valuable information that comes up across the Open Innovation environments.

Internal and external communities can bring real value to our organisation by providing ideas and feedback for the innovation pipeline. But surely it requires some deeper understanding of the Information-Knowledge transition and answering some tough questions. How can a decentralised set of networks composed of interconnected nodes convert information into collective intelligence? Which way the information and knowledge travel from Open Innovation communities or from Crowds to the organisation’s “knowledge bank”? Does this information need some special treatment, filtering maybe?

First we need to understand the power and precision of Open Innovation in the network economy. At the end it’s all about Knowledge generation and management. Open Innovation and networked knowledge exchange are important means to remain competitive nowadays. More and more companies use Open Innovation(in particular Crowdsourcing) as a form of ideas and R&D gathering, but that does not always include the tacit knowledge “takeover”.

The handling of Collective Intelligence in organisations involves several challenges. First, the more people you engage the more difficult it gets to evaluate and give feedback on all information that penetrates your organisation. We need different channels to make the information, knowledge and ideas flow at right directions. But above all, you have to establish right Open Innovation communities, both internal and external, that will contribute to improving your internal Collective Intelligence.

Second, larger organisations typically have numerous and diverse knowledge needs throughout the organisation departments. Defining the amount of useful knowledge generated by Open Innovation is a critical success factor to focus “reasonable” efforts on the relevant themes and challenges.

Third one…, obviously it’s really about the results and the strategy! So we need to look beyond the Marketing and, for sure beyond the IT solutions. There is a need of an infrastructure with guidelines and processes that is integrated with the overall innovation and collaboration efforts and aligned with organisational culture. But only if it’s strategically useful and under condition of flexible and scalable IT tools. Remember, the IT is a support, not the core of your Knowledge Management.

A fourth challenge is to engage our employees, collaborators and clients to come up with new filtered information and to convert it into the Collective Intelligence. Sometimes it is even easier to make the external community participate, particularly when the members came from Open Innovation Networks, than to motivate our staff to become engaged to that particular “sharing culture”. “Keep your biggest fans coming back regularly and give them a reason to recommend your community to peers and friends. To do this, you need to first create consistently compelling content.”

Final challenge is simply to know when to stop. Or to change the course.

The collective wisdom of the organisation is a huge asset in the fuzzy front end. Making the Open Innovation work for the reinforcement of organisation’s Collective Intelligence is intended to provide a comprehensive approach to a difficult, challenging, and significant problem for organisations, the problem of how to manage effectively all information that flows among the OI community “radars”. OI initiatives are more and more commons so I think that soon we’ll get some answers.


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Ines Skotnicka


  1. Muy interesante el artículo, Inés. Precisamente ahora estoy reflexionando acerca de esa relación entre Open Innovation y Collective Inteligence. Más en concreto, en qué situaciones las iniciativas de Crowdsourcing generan dinámicas de Inteligencia Colectiva. Gracias por el análisis…

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