So as I am sitting here thinking about the recent Front End Innovation (FEI) conference I attended in Boston. I am wondering what the fundamental driver for that event was? There was a diversity of speakers, theorists, business folk, thought leaders, executives, marketers, tool providers, service providers, etc. I felt the driver was very unclear, and so was the take-home message. When I tried to elicit help from the top tier company leaders known for their success with Open Innovation (OI) practices, I was left dumbfounded.
My question specifically was something along the lines of, how does open innovation fit in when speaking of the front end? The responses were a bit muddled and quick, and along the lines of ‘they are one in the same’ and ‘they are essentially different ways of saying the same thing’ and ‘our front end is open innovation.’ My take-away from the response was twofold: first, I took it to mean that front end innovation and open innovation are not distinguishable from each other within the internal innovation practices and/or two, who cares if they appear or are different- it’s irrelevant. Hmmmm? Perhaps I misunderstood the answers. But, later in the event, it became evermore clear that there was one loud and clear unifying message: find out what consumers/customers want, dream, envision, and need. This is front end.
In my thinking, front end innovation is VERY distinguishable from open innovation. I think front end is a state of being within the practitioner mindset when actively engaged in doing innovation, and it also is a demarcation of where you are in the end-to-end innovation process or cycle. Whereas, open innovation is an act of looking outside and externally seeking new ideas, new potential collaborators, solvers, or partners.
IF front end = identifying/shaping the nugget(s) of truth of what consumers want, dream, envision, and need and to do this the organization looks outside to small and large volumes of external consumers for these insights, then, ok….. I can logically see the way in which front end = open innovation.
However, I fundamentally believe FEI is being in the problem space, and OI is working the solution space. A mindset versus an act.
And, regardless of whether you are consumer packaged goods company or a research lab, front end is not an action. It is an acknowledgment that there is great value in staying in the problem space.
Emily Riley: Innovation Practitioner