7 obstacles that prevent you from implementing a responsible innovation strategy (4/5)
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7 obstacles that prevent you from implementing a responsible innovation strategy (4/5)

This article is part of a series on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). 

Not yet familiar with this concept? Check out our definition!

Within companies, open innovation can still encounter obstacles specific to change management or resulting from unsatisfactory experiences, and some companies are beginning to feel reluctant about open innovation.

Here are the strongest obstacles.

1. Structural inertia

Outdated innovation management, with non-transversal innovation, are the signs of an innovation culture that has not been the subject of in-depth strategic reflection.

Companies still operate largely in silos (R&D departments, CSR, etc.), which can limit the scope of projects. The fear of stepping on the toes of other departments can also paralyze action. The emergence of “innovation cells” or intrapreneurship programs, for the most advanced organizations, also have their limits: once the project is developed, how can it be reintegrated into the heart of the company?

Above all, collaboration is very rarely implemented during classic innovation programs and, in the end, these approaches do not transform the corporate culture quickly enough.

In the end, the company’s culture does not allow for a new, even less open approach to innovation.

2. The business lens

The culture of self-interest within a department, added to the sectorial prism, will tend to standardize the vision of innovation within a company. Indeed, what each person understands by “innovation” is very often linked to their training (engineer, designer, salesperson, financier, marketer, etc.) and their career path (the longer they stay in a sector or a company, the less they are able to think “out of the box”).

Moreover, the vision of innovation is different depending on the company, the sector and the internal culture, and it is a conception of innovation mainly driven by the dominant technology, the trends of a sector and by the history of the company.

As a result, open innovation practices often look alike and are limited, in the vast majority of cases, to the same partners, whether they are laboratories and research institutes on the one hand, or startups on the other. In a given sector, all the players more or less always identify the same partners and take the same directions for innovation. Innovation is therefore not always sufficiently differentiating.

How can we restore innovation to its role as a driver of competitiveness, to get a player ahead? How can we feed ourselves outside of our industry? Who are the new innovation players?

There is a whole panel of innovation actors not identified as such by companies: other stakeholders and experts, coming from other geographical areas and sectors than the usual partners, actors who emit weak signals, who are ahead of the curve and who are not captured by the traditional innovation radars.

And it is the diversity of points of view (research, entrepreneurship, society, associations and philanthropy, business) that sparks the creativity that drives innovation.

3. Frustrations with the expected results

One of the obstacles to trying new things and launching new open innovation programs is that most large groups have already initiated open innovation programs and are disappointed with the results.

→ The programs do not always lead to solutions (except in the context of digital transformation topics where there may be product / service launches or process improvements or on very specific and “easy” challenges to solve and deploy)

→ There is no deep transformation of practices (only a few people involved internally have increased their skills)

→ Collaboration with startups or experts is not real collaboration (no teamwork, no exchange of best practices from one actor to another), we remain in an innovation by acquisition or transfer

→ The results are not always there, we get POC (“proof of concept”), not always replicable or industrializable.

 Are these disappointing results inherent to open innovation or are they the result of unsuitable programs?

  • Are the objectives clearly specified? To what problem should the expected innovation respond? Many innovation challenges do not pose a question to be solved but rather propose a “theme” to be addressed. If there is no problem, can there be a solution?


  • Are the results criteria defined? If the main objective of innovation programs is attractiveness, communication or acculturation of teams, can we expect innovation results? Before embarking on an open innovation program, we advise you to write down your innovation results objectives in very specific terms.


  • How are projects set up and monitored? Does it allow for collaboration between actors and the transformation of practices


  • When the solutions that emerge are radical, do we have the political courage to follow through with the idea? In the medium term, the conclusions may be the cessation of a part of the activity, a pivot, the renunciation of activities to invest in others, or even a rethinking of the model (economic, ….). This implies strategic decisions, investments, reflections on internal skills and possible reconversions to be anticipated. These are difficult decisions to make for results that will not be immediate. But we remember that the companies that invested the earliest in digital technology have succeeded in their transformation where giants have collapsed. The ecological and social transformation could follow the same curve as the digital transformation… only faster.

4. Ignorance or misunderstanding of the concept

The issues related to decarbonization, eco-design and the circular economy are complex and rely on fundamentally technological innovations.

However, to meet these challenges, companies rely on their R&D teams on the one hand, and their open innovation teams on the other, i.e. teams that are not trained in climate issues, planetary limits or systemic change and that apply classic innovation methods – open or internal – without integrating complementary expertise or innovation criteria.

Teams at the forefront of innovation therefore work in the usual way, with usual actors, to solve new problems.

📣 RRI is precisely a method of innovation that allows to address transition issues by reconciling technological and scientific issues with societal and environmental issues

5. Poor budget allocation

Often, as soon as the term “responsible” is mentioned, managers think of CSR or sustainable development, whereas responsible innovation is first and foremost a tool for innovation.

The budgets that must be allocated to responsible innovation are innovation budgets. They must be designed for this purpose and imply investments in line with the company’s strategic ambitions.

Indeed, an RRI strategy is not a cost center, it is not a communication, marketing, public relations, CSR or philanthropic strategy.

RRI is not an expense but a strategic investment. It is about establishing a competitive advantage, taking a sustainable strategic lead and engaging teams, especially R&D teams, in the transformation of their company.

In fact, if the needs can be identified within an organization, a department or a subsidiary, it is essential that the RRI approach be a strong commitment from the management, and even from the shareholders: it is essential to have a long-term vision in line with the evolution of the company and its requirements.

6. A lack of systemic vision and a fear of openness

Companies are primarily oriented by financial results, which is understandable. However, the short-term vision of results prevents them from perceiving long-term risks. The raw material supply crises and the cascading effects of 2021-2022 have highlighted a lack of anticipation and the fragility of organizations in the face of external shocks.

This lack of visibility and anticipation is largely explained by the sectoral prism, the short-term vision and the lack of interaction between players in the same sector or outside the sector. Interacting differently and outside of one’s sector, with experts from all regions of the world, could allow one to

→ Better anticipate certain risks

→ Listen to weak signals

→ Work on the resilience of the company

It becomes essential to have an economic vision that moves from competition to “COOPetition” and make collaboration a strength.

🔑Excerpt from the report of the Cour des Comptes – October 2021 which highlights “the weakness of quantitative evaluations of the environmental effects [of projects funded under the AIPs]”

“The record is disappointing in automotive, with the field of propulsion, which carries the main challenges in decarbonization of road vehicles, concentrating most of the difficulties encountered in the automotive component. The overall disappointing record in the powertrain sector reflects, first of all, the technological choices made by national manufacturers, some of which have been rendered obsolete by political guidelines and market trends towards an accelerated end to the sale of internal combustion vehicles. However, this record can also be explained by a reluctance on the part of the main French automakers and equipment suppliers to engage in collaborative projects in the sectors and technologies that are most strategic for their business, and for which there are strong divergences of direction. The high degree of competition between carmakers and equipment manufacturers, which distinguishes the automotive industry from the rail or naval industries in France, has been a strong brake on collaborative research.”

7. A lack of internal skills

The changes are profound and complex and there is a lack of internal expertise on the subject of global limits.

In terms of acculturation, awareness-raising workshops such as the Fresque du Climat, or similar formats on circular economy, eco-design and energy mix are good tools for a first step. Although essential, these programs remain insufficient. These awarenesses must be transformed into practices and processes.

Internal experts are often on the side of CSR and eco-design, but they are rare and are rarely integrated into the innovation process upstream of strategic and marketing thinking.

There is also a need for skills in workshop facilitation, creativity, collaboration tools and the ability to identify, understand and talk to various stakeholders.

We need to continue these essential training and skill-building actions, with all the company’s professions, including the managers, and move on to action.

However, like all pedagogy, the best way to learn is to learn by doing, in project mode, especially to transform and anchor new working methods.

It is therefore a long term work that we are talking about, which must be done over time.

📣Transforming practices in depth, launching projects that allow teams to collaborate transversally internally, and intersectorally or interdisciplinary with the outside world, are imperative today. It is about strengthening intellectual agility, creativity and cooperative spirit to improve the resilience and attractiveness of companies.

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