While many have written about the development of networks, the notion of communities of practice or production, open innovation, and the influence of globalization, we believe that given the importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in innovation, underlying all of these issues is a much more pervasive, and perhaps more disruptive event – the rising influence of the Digital Native.

Evolution of Production and Innovation Practices

Traditional management models and organizational structures stressed the top-down integration of tasks and a clear hierarchy of authority.  Innovation processes predicated on these assumptions, such as the state-gate model, assume a relatively linear flow of tasks and information.  They assume predictable decision points and handoffs between individuals and/or teams from one stage of the innovation process to the next.  Yet our own direct experience suggests that this linear view is only obvious in hindsight.  Innovation is really a contact sport between individuals who work within and across organizational structural boundaries – a networked and open model of innovation.

Companies have gone from a competitive climate where natural resources and efficient application of labor yielded advantage, to one where value is derived from participation in a network.  These networks are comprised of tightly and loosely coupled organizations brought together to leverage capabilities, and more importantly, knowledge, to create novel concepts and prototypes that can ultimately be reduced to practice – all in a cost effective and time efficient manner. Key to these network and open innovation environments is the role of ICT’s which allow for global communication and provide the platforms for open collaboration. Even more so, ICT’s have fundamentally shifted the “power” to create from the hierarchy of the organization to the independent individual.

Creating Porous Boundaries with ICTs

At its most extreme, network and open innovation involve individuals who self select to participate, and whose work is screened by other such individuals in a peer-review and recognition system.  Again, these activities are enabled through ICT-based platforms.  Examples include the open source development of the Linux operating system, the Wikipedia model of production and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, all of which allow for hundreds of contributors and most of whom are relatively anonymous.

In our work with companies across multiple sectors ranging from financial institutions, aerospace, industrial products, consumer products, and biomedical devices, we see attempts to create ICT-enabled networks where open collaboration and communication flourish.  For example, Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop program uses an Internet portal to link potential innovators with P&G needs. Innocentive, uses the internet to provide “matchmaker” types of services to link what it terms problem solvers with solution seekers.  Both of these make some important assumptions about the role that technology should play in the collaborative innovation space.  Specifically, these and other programs assume that traditional organizational boundaries no longer define “innovation capability.”  Instead innovation capability lays both within the organization’s people, and in the organization’s ability (1) to reach outside of itself to find new ideas; and (2) to provide a window into itself to facilitate problem solving.  These initiatives attempt to create more porous boundaries for the organization.

Other initiatives also attempt to increase the porosity with the organization, enhancing the flow of ideas between individuals who might not otherwise come into contact.  As part of a system, employees can post ideas, review others’ ideas, provide comments on other’s ideas, and even vote on their favorites regardless of their level within the company or global location.  Postings could be sorted by “most read” and “most discussed” thus further leveraging the “crowd sourcing” possibilities to help expand opportunities.

While ICT’s enable the open network model of innovation, technology is not the mother of invention; people are.  Thus, the capability to leverage ICT’s – the ability to communicate in and navigate the information world; to create and adapt content and processes in the virtual space; and to socially engage and interact in the online sphere – is the underlying but often unnoticed competitive resource.  These are the abilities of the Digital Native.

To read part two, please click here.

About the Author

Phillip Ayoub is a PhD Candidate in Information Sciences & Technology at The Pennsylvania State University. He received his B.S. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and also obtained a masters degree in Industrial Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. He has worked as a human factors engineer at The Boeing Co. and as a design researcher at Steelcase, as well as a consultant in areas of management and information technology. His research focuses on socio-cultural and information technology aspects of innovation, organization and work.

Dr. Irene J. Petrick is a Professor of Practice in the College of Information Sciences & Technology at The Pennsylvania State University. In addition to her professorial activities, she has over 25 years of experience in technology planning, management, and product development in both academic and industrial settings. She is author or co-author on more than 100 publications and presentations. Her research interests include supply chain collaboration and innovation, technology roadmapping, and technology forecasting. Previous sponsors include Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, IBM, the U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and the PA Department of Commerce, among others.

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