As someone immersed in the day-to-day work of attempting to drive a large organization’s approach to innovation, I have sometimes thought about permanently banning the word “innovation” from my own lexicon. The term “innovation” is being bandied about pretty broadly in many fields—some might say to the point of saturation. My own field, international development, is no exception. I have concluded, though, that I won’t ban “innovation” from my vocabulary. And my involvement in LAUNCH helped drive that decision—and much more importantly, as I will share, has greatly shaped my thinking about how to drive innovation in an organizational context.
How to drive an “open innovation” process. LAUNCH is, in a sense, about open innovation, as it sources solutions/innovations from many corners and assembles a networked coalition of individuals and organizations to help propel those innovations forward. This very approach is becoming important for problem solving in many organizational contexts, including our own at USAID. In fact, we recently launched an initiative called “Grand Challenges for Development” that relies largely on an open innovation approach to attack some of the largest solvable problems in international development.
The power of unconventional “solvers.” This is a key axiom of open innovation practices and of many prize/challenge-based problem solving approaches. Don’t count out the non-expert. In fact, invite him or her in! Several of our LAUNCH innovators came to their pathbreaking work from well outside of their current field or businesses. For example, LAUNCH: Water innovator Mark Tonkin of DTI-r had very little experience in water filtration technology before embarking on his current venture.
- We are in a unique position to convene and motivate networks. Even organizations like USAID and NASA that work with literally thousands of partner organizations, grant and contract recipients, partner governments, and others sometimes lose sight of their incredible convening power. Our success in assembling a top notch LAUNCH Council and in benefiting from world class technical advice while developing “challenge statements” for each LAUNCH cycle has shown us that we have incredible convening power. And with incredible convening power, of course, comes an opportunity to assemble a powerful network of problem solvers and a network that is connected to resources and other people to whom up and coming innovators need access.
By Will Schmitt – USAID