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Meta-Innovation

In examining the broad topic of open innovation a little more deeply, you find that some innovation modalities or innovation channels have been around a long time. One example would be the specialty labs that have long been used for customized testing or analyses or to which selected operations may be outsourced. On the other hand, some open innovation modalities are newer, with only limited examples of historical use: for instance, tech-scouting, crowdsourcing, and public-private partnerships. Taken altogether, the introduction of these new modalities, and even more important the integration of all modalities, into an innovation effort is a new approach to innovation strategy. It is what creates an Open Innovation Marketplace—a collection of channels and exchanges, an innovation bazaar, where creativity and ideas can be contracted, openly sourced, or globally brainstormed. It represents what The Economist's Tom Standage cleverly termed "meta-innovation: innovating on how we innovate."2

The 1990s saw many varieties of open innovation emerge or increase. There was also a growing movement in open source software. Although open source software development was indeed "open to the source of the solutions," the term referred to the underlying code, the "source code," and its intent to be "open to the public," meaning not copyrighted but placed in the public domain. Thus, the novel development practice of being "open to the source of ideas" didn't actually have a name of its own. There were a few examples near the turn of the century, such as Hello Brain, InnoCentive, TopCoder, BountyQuest, and X-Prize; although, X-Prize is a not-for-profit foundation that also fits the category of prize philanthropy.

As this approach was replicated at varying levels of complexity, rapid-fire, problem solving and consulting appeared in models such as e-Lance: a website that matches freelancers and work assignments; Gerson-Lehrman, a website that says it "connects the world's leading institutions with the world's leading experts"; and later Amazon's Mechanical Turk, a website that matches software developers with businesses and entrepreneurs who want mechanical tasks done; and Google Answers, an "online knowledge market" offered by Google that enabled users to post bounties for well-researched answers to their queries.

These examples are hardly exhaustive, but you get the idea. In this climate, Jeff Howe's Wired article in 20063 introduced the term crowdsourcing—a descriptor that has gained considerable traction. The term has been comfortably applied to both the quick response "answers" systems and more complex endeavors, such as InnoCentive.

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