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Open Innovation could spur diversity

Authored by Karl Simpson

Open Innovation is the new wave. The accepted remedy to the innovation black-hole experienced in drug discovery and development over recent years. It is a paradigm shift. Suddenly, the R&D heavyweights are throwing away their R&D handbooks and disposing their budgets in the global ecosystem of institutes, small biotechs and service companies with the capacity to innovate. The mind-set is new and it is permeating all corners of the sector.

Innovation is a process rather than a moment. It is born from discovery, a new creation, either physical or conceptual. We are all capable of these moments of radical thought or creation and it has been the human capacity to successively unlock these new creations and advance them into real world applications that has benefited societies around the world.

The pharmaceutical industry and medicine has always been at the forefront of this culture of human discovery, sometimes advancing with incredible speed, other times it stalls and stutters.

Today we are seeing the notion of collaborative innovation beginning to gather credence across the pharmaceutical, and the similarly purposed, biotech industries. A new type of innovation which today carries the moniker ‘open innovation’ – a term coined by Henry Chesbrough of Haas Business School and the University of California, Berkeley in the book titled the same.

One of the underlying principles of this innovation approach is that the collective minds of the many are more powerful and effective than those of the few. That is to say, that a problem addressed by the collective minds of people inside and outside of your individual organisation, whether it be a university, research institute or commercial enterprise, is more likely to achieve the breakthrough idea which can then be subjected to applied processes of innovation to bring it to a defined marketplace.

With so many companies opening themselves to this open innovation approach, what must we see in their executive behaviours to truly exhibit the ‘open innovation’ philosophy? Well, one of those behaviours must surely be diversity. By which I mean for the avoidance of doubt, all people, regardless of sex, creed, disability, language, age or anything else which could be used to prejudice a person’s credentials to do a job.

The very essence of the ‘open innovation’ concept is that the collective minds of the world can join together to develop ideas which solve problems. These in turn can be used for commercial enterprise, or not, but the collaborative environment in which they’re accomplished is to suggest that people everywhere can add value to the process.

The sheer breadth of knowledge which comes from cross-community collaboration has the potential to bring breakthroughs unthinkable in a ‘closed-innovation’ system. This linking of knowledge and ability is at its very core a diverse business. Conceptually, the researcher in China, connects with the biomarkers guru in Finland, who use the manufacturing expert in South Africa, and the regulatory person from Canada. This extreme example is used to illustrate the diversity which you might find in an open system.

So perhaps we’re finally arriving at a time when our need to unlock innovation might be the driver required to bring diversity hurtling into the workplace. Locking our minds against different thinking must surely be a practice of the past. As I wrote back in in 2005 for Pharmaceutical Executive, diversity does not begin with simply opening our doors to people , it begins with opening our minds to their ideas and this need for collaborative innovation might finally wake us all up to the brilliance of the people we have access to – whoever and wherever they are.

For more information on diversity please join our Linkedin group Human Resources Diversity in Pharma & Biotech 

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