What Open Innovation Impact Looks Like at Electrolux

Check your kitchen or closet, and chances are there’s an appliance made by Electrolux Group. The Stockholm-based company sells products under the Frigidaire, Electrolux, and Tornado brands; its 2016 revenues were $14 billion.

Lucia Chierchia is the Open Innovation Director at Electrolux Group’s Global Technology Center in Porcia, Italy. She spoke with Innovation Leader recently about how she seeks out the “hidden innovators” who may be developing relevant technologies, but aren’t active in your industry sector, and the “ambassadors” program she launched. Chierchia also shared with us several of her slides about how Electrolux pursues open innovation and how she thinks about the cultural and mindset change it requires.

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Finding ‘hidden innovators.’ Many companies say that they do open innovation — “we work with suppliers, customers, and universities.” To us, that is normal innovation. We think the challenge is to reach the hidden innovators. They can live in technology or business sectors that are very different from us, like biomedical, aerospace, or the military. They may be very small companies, or even garage inventors.

Focusing and bridging to the business. Everybody in Electrolux is our customer, since they are all looking for innovative solutions for their business, though they have may different priorities. Human resources is my customer, which is different from manufacturing or R&D. They have to define where we should focus, since we can’t scout for everything. We sit down with them, typically on a quarterly basis, thinking about what their needs are going to be one year out, all the way to ten years out.

Sometimes my colleagues know what they want. They have questions or specific problems, and we create a targeted [open innovation] challenge. (See below for Chierchia’s definition of a “targeted challenge” vs. “inspired chalenge.”) But if you’re not specific enough, you receive thousands of ideas, and very few are relevant. That can create frustration on my team, which has to screen a lot of ideas, and it can create frustration outside the company.

Focusing our work and bridging into the business are both very important, and two areas for improvement. The bridge step into the business is important; otherwise the risk is that ideas can die.

Creating ambassadors of open innovation. Over the last two years, we’ve created an open innovation ambassador program within Electrolux, to create some expertise on open innovation processes, mechanisms, and methodology. That helps reinforce the connection between my team and the departments who are our stakeholders. We now have more than 100 ambassadors, and they can manage challenges on their own.

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