Last week I participated in a two-day PhD Workshop at ESADE Business School in Barcelona with the two leading researchers on open innovation: Henry Chesbrough (UC Berkeley) and Wim Vanhaverbeke (Hasselt University, Belgium). Over 20 PhD students working on open innovation or related fields participated in the workshop. Today, I would like to present the current state of research and future research perspectives as discussed at this workshop.
Although open innovation research is still in the beginning, researchers should remind themselves that Open Innovation is not new. Henry Chesbrough already acknowledged this 2003 in his book, by referring to a number of prior literature and previous examples. For instance, industrial lasers are an early example of open innovation. Today, managers love the concept of OI but they were already trying to adopt it for years, even before the theory of open innovation existed. Chesbrough quoted a manager at Philips: "We knew that OI works in practice, but until we read your book we weren't sure if it worked in theory."
In this context, Wim Vanhaverbeke presented the example of airplanes: Airplanes were already flying in the beginning of the 20th century but the theory behind (aeronautics) was discovered several years/decades later. In 2003, after Henry Chesbrough published his initial OI book, a Procter & Gamble executive said that the book finally articulates what they have been trying to do for years. Stepping into open innovation certainly takes courage, and the new theory gives managers a framework for thinking.
What does this mean for academic research?
We see that scientists are late (as usual), and are now trying to find out why open innovation works in practice - and especially how it works efficiently. But under the light of the high popularity of open innovation, a new research question pops up: But if open innovation is the new "must-have" in management (if it is a competitive necessity), then how is it possible to generate a competitive advantage with open innovation?
The development of new metrics for innovation (and also metrics especially for open innovation) is currently researched by Wim Vanhaverbeke. In a project together with Unilever, Procter & Gamble and other companies they request a proposal from consultancies regarding open innovation metrics.
A part of Henry's research focuses on Intellectual Property Rights Management (IP Management) of universities. Tech transfer offices of universities (which should transfer IP from universities to industry) are not working efficiently and often don't realize the potential of their IP. Open Innovation could help the tech transfer offices to work more efficiently and to generate more money for the university.
Also previously untouched topics like OI at small- and medium enterprises (SME) and OI in the service industry are currently researched by a number of researchers (also Chesbrough is focusing on OI in services). Hence, we see that the firm level of open innovation is currently extensively researched. Also, if you look at the picture below, (one post-it equals one PhD thesis) you can clearly see that the firm/organizational level will be more or less explored in the coming years. But today open innovation is not only implemented on firm level, it is also a well-discussed topic in governments. Therefore, future PhD students should focus on other units of analysis, like Individuals, Dyads, interorganizational networks or national/regional innovation systems.
It is also important to research open innovation in context with other theories. Until now, the open innovation paradigm was mostly researched in itself, isolated. But it would be more valuable if research could connect open innovation with theories of the firm. In this context, I especially refer to Transaction Cost Theory, Market-, Resourced Based View of the Firm, and Dynamic and Core Capability Theory. But also other theories, e.g. the theory of the Multi-National-Enterprise (MNE) could be connected to open innovation, and open innovation could probably extend the MNE-theory and vice versa. Open innovation research with connection to other theory will have far higher chances to get publicized than research just focusing on OI.
Publication tips for open innovation papers
Finally, Chesbrough and Vanhaverbeke presented some publication tips:
- Make sure you like your topic. You will work on this topic not only for the PhD, but also for the publication period afterwards. And this takes years. You should really love your topic, otherwise it is a waste of time.
- Publish early. The first paper should be published in the second year of the PhD. Publication takes time and you learn best how to write, when writing a paper - learning by doing. If you want to continue your career in academia you will need publications.
- Select the right journal. It is not necessary to publish only in A or A+ rated journals. Select the right journal according to the fit of topic and journal. It doesn't make sense trying to publish a non-groundbreaking paper in an A+ journal and then (after waiting several months for a review) get rejected. As mentioned before, you will need publications, therefore think about publishing in B-journals as well. You will get faster feedback and this is what you need - especially for your early publications.
- Special issues on Open innovation. It is not true that it is easier to get into a special issue than in a normal issue of a journal. Special Issues are also very popular. Chesbrough mentioned a rejection rate of 75% to 85% in the last special issue of R&D Management.
- Make a portfolio of your papers. Consider the long time lag for reviewing and publishing (often 1.5 to 3 years!) and plan your time accordingly. If you get a chance to revise your paper, then immediately do so and submit again. Other researchers might work on similar topics as well and your data is not getting newer or more interesting. When one paper is reviewed, you should already prepare the next one for initial submission.
- It is an art how to answer to a reviewer in a revision. This is something you will learn over time. But seek advice from colleagues and your supervisor.