OII SDP 2007 (XXVI): Getting Others to Innovate for You: Perspective on an Emerging Paradigm of Distributed Innovation

Leads: Karim Lakhani

This talk will focus on how firms and communities are leveraging external sources of knowledge and talent for innovation. We will discuss the practices that are enabling a new paradigm of open innovation and consider their applicability to established firms. The talk will present results from newly emerging research on open source communities and the pharmaceutical industry to develop an understanding about new strategies for innovation. The first part of the talk will discuss how R&D labs in science-based firms are broadcasting their most difficult scientific problems to large networks of scientists around the world and the success they are achieving by tapping into distributed sources of knowledge. Key drivers for success in a distributed knowledge environment will be presented. The second part of the talk will focus on how open source communities are pioneering a radical model for innovation where new functionality and features get developed by a large and distributed community. We will consider the challenges of organizing a distributed innovation process and how firms, large and small, are participating as partners with the various communities.

Joy: No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else (1998)
Hayek: Knowledge is Unevenly Distributed (1945)
Von Hippel: Knowledge is Sticky (1994)

So the question is: how do we build an architecture, a system that attracts this so much knowledge? Users innovate and they do it outside of the R&D laboratory.


  • User needs: personal and professional
  • Community – Freedom – Belonging
  • Fun & Enjoyment

Distributed Innovation (1-3, need driven; 4-6, solution driven)

  1. Users in the field experience needs way ahead of manufacturers
  2. Need is urgent so users go ahead and solve local problem
  3. Manufacturers later figure out how to incorporate user innovations into products
  4. Firms encounter problems that they cannot solve internally
  5. Look outside for help in developing a solution
  6. Outisders typically have solved problem in their own domains and can easily port solution to firm’s domain

My reflections

  • I wonder if the fact of belonging to a community is, more than a social/emotional need, is an economic/vital need. In an Information Society, being connected is a constant need, specially if you’re a knowledge worker. And connection to the network is established not just by lurking but also by contributing (I owe some of these thoughts to my friend Genís Roca)
  • I remember Ferrino’s strategy on hiring Reinhold Messner to improve their products or design brand new ones. The shift has been that all the reinhold messners of the world can do the same at really low costs: Ferrino is based in Italy, so snailmail writing or visiting might not be that comfortable. Of course, you need someone listening on the other side


Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation (Chapter 1). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Lakhani, K. R., Jeppesen, L. B., Lohse, P. A. & Panetta, J. A. (2007). The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving. HBS Working Paper Number: 07-050. Cambridge: Harvard University. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5612.html

More info


SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (XXVI): Getting Others to Innovate for You: Perspective on an Emerging Paradigm of Distributed Innovation” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from https://ictlogy.net/review/?p=592

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