But not everyone is as smooth as Tom Sawyer. If your open innovation initiatives aren't working, here are some ideas that might help you get them on the right track.
The first step is to show some humility and admit that you are no Tom Sawyer.
And then switch the problem around. Rather than thinking "how can I convince a community to solve my problem for me?" ask yourself "Are there communities out there that my company could join that might be experiencing problems similar to mine?"
After all, why does it have to be your community? The mistake most companies make with open innovation is that they assume that the ony way for open innovation to work is for the community to be built around them.
Not only is this an arrogant approach, it often doesn't work, especially for smaller companies. A much better approach is one that has worked very well for companies in the open source software movement; to become humble members of existing communities rather than attempting to build new communities around you.
Think of a world where not just your fence gets painted, but where everyone's fence gets painted at the same time. By participating in a community bigger than you, you might solve your problem faster, and you'll be much more likely to find people to help (because you'll be helping them solve their problem at the same time).
What's more, you might actually (gasp!) contribute to something bigger than you.
1. You become a good citizen instead of a king. Being a participant is a role with humility, and being able to participate as a citizen versus having to "own" or control everthing will make people much more receptive to your ideas and needs. No one likes a self-appointed king.
2. You may benefit from perspectives other than your own. In a company-based open innovation approach, you define the problem and others (in theory) solve it. But if you are working on a problem that many different groups/interests are trying to solve, and you are all defining the problems together, you may realize that your initial definition was wrong, or that there are better ways of thinking about or tackling the issue.
3. You may see results faster. Rather than starting from scratch, you may be able to tap into an existing network of people who are already thinking about the same problem as you. Why start from scratch when there are others who could give you a head start?
Once you've found a community that you think you can help, start considering what resources your company could bring to to the table that may help this community achieve its goals. Could your company provide:
- Good ideas?
- Powerful endorsement?
- Wider attention?
I'm sure you'll think of other things as well.
And I certainly had this way of thinking beat into my head by some of the best community architects in the world while I was at Red Hat, including Greg DeKoenigsberg (http://gregdekspeaks.wordpress.com/), Karsten Wade (http://iquaid.org/), and Max Spevack (http://spevack.livejournal.com/).