A few years ago, a package landed on my desk that changed the course of my professional career.
I was then the president of a popular toy company, so creative people continually sent me new product ideas, prototypes to test and sell sheets describing "the next big thing!" The constant interruptions annoyed me. And though this particular package could have been the next Beanie Baby or Tickle Me Elmo, I still sighed and tossed it into a heap of unopened submissions.
With a pressing workload, I didn't have time to review new innovations.
But when I tossed aside that package, the realization hit: not having the time to review new products bothered me more than the disruptions. I had become so mired in the "day-to-day" of running a business that I no longer got the opportunity to indulge my passion for innovation. I knew that many of the submissions I received had value, and the inventor in me wanted to go through each one.
Frustrated at my inability to do that, the engineer in me started thinking about the outside submission process as a whole. If inventors regularly called on mid-size toy companies like mine, they were probably contacting the folks at
incessantly. I started to formulate a plan to make everybody happy.
In 2000, I launched Big Idea Group (BIG), an innovation company with a simple goal: to gather the country's best ideas from independent inventors and present a portfolio of these products to companies in an organized, efficient manner.
As inventors learned of my services, they flocked to BIG, excited by the opportunity to have their products reviewed and possibly licensed. And all types of companies welcomed my services. They could review several innovative ideas in one sitting and trust that I had prescreened every item in the presentation.
The business evolved from there. We started running innovation contests for companies who wanted specific types of products, such as inexpensive office supplies, gardening tools for elderly people and bicycle accessories for teens. We even started helping companies figure out what products to ask for.
With each evolution of the business, we further closed the gap between creative people with good ideas and companies that have realized that some of the best input comes from contributors not listed on their organization charts.
This environment is called "open innovation" and it creates opportunities for all parties to prosper. People who were previously ignored or shut out of the innovation process are being invited in, recognized and compensated for their input. For their part, companies are getting access and information from a myriad of creative thinkers and problem solvers who aren't on the payroll.
I wrote the book
to help people on both sides of the equation understand this new environment and how to exploit the opportunities presented by it. Some key points include:
Open Innovation gives everybody a chance. It's the opportunity created by companies accepting input from people outside of their own R&D departments. It's also the ability to infiltrate industries that have previously been off-limits. Not long ago, if you wanted a recording contract, you had to work night clubs to get noticed or know someone in the music industry who could get you an audition. But now, perhaps one of the most popular Open Innovation contests in the world, "American Idol," has changed the "rise to stardom" for young singers. Similar opportunities are unfolding in journalism, design, the arts, product development, and more. If you have a dream, you no longer need to cross your fingers or wait a lifetime to get noticed.
You don't have to win an open innovation contest to succeed. Open innovation isn't just about picking winners -- it's about discovering talent. Billboard's top 20 is littered with ex-"American Idol" contestants who didn't win the crown. At BIG, we routinely look for stars among our contributors and have subsequently hired designers, engineers, artists, writers and so forth to do freelance work for us on an array of projects. The openness of the environment makes it possible for more than one winner to emerge.
People are already making money in this environment. I profiled nearly 40 people already profiting in the open innovation world. Some have exploited company-sponsored opportunities, such as innovation contests and crowd-sourcing businesses. Others have used emerging technologies like blogs, podcasts and social media to become everyday experts on their own terms. The common thread is that each person is making money using their talents and interests.
Many of us subscribe to the theory that there's no limit to the amount of joy and success you can find in life if you're doing something you love. Yet few know how to actually make that happen. It's my hope that this book will give people the framework and inspiration needed to profit from their passions.