Overcoming Cultural Resistance to Open Source Innovation

Published on October 17, 2019


Purpose: This article offers insight on how to effectively help incumbent organizations prepare for global business shifts to open source and digital business models.

Design/methodology/approach: Discussion related to observation, experience and case studies related to incumbent organizations and their efforts to adopt open source models and business tools.

Findings: Companies that let their old culture reject the new risk becoming obsolete if doing so inhibits their rethinking of their future using powerful tools like crowdsourcing, blockchain, customer experience-based connections, integrating workflows with artificial intelligence (AI), automated technologies and digital business platforms. These new ways of working affect how and where work is done, access to information, an organization’s capacity for work and its efficiency. As important as technological proficiency is, managing the cultural shift required to embrace transformative industry architecture – the key to innovating new business models – may be the bigger challenge.

Research limitations/implications: Findings are based on original research and case studies. Insights are theoretically, based on additional study, interviews, and research, but need to be tested through additional case studies. Practical implications: The goal is to make the transition more productive and less traumatic for incumbent firms by providing a language and tested methods to help senior leaders use innovative technologies to build on their core even as they explore new business models.

Social implications: This article provides insights that will lead to more effective ideas for helping organizations adapt. Originality/value: This article is based on original research and case experience. That research and experience has then been analyzed and viewed through the lens of models that have been known to work. The result is original insights and findings that can be applied in new ways to further adoption within incumbent organizations.


John Winsor

John Winsor is a leading thinker, advisor and entrepreneur building platforms in the marketing, media and innovation industries. He is the founder and CEO of Open Assembly and is known for his strategic marketing and open product innovation work based on collaboration, co-creation, open innovation, and crowdsourcing.

Jin Paik

Jin H. Paik is the Program Director and Senior Researcher at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH). In his role, he serves as the lab’s general manager. He works to develop the lab’s strategic vision, as well as to direct project and research activities. He oversees the development of open innovation projects through partnerships with NASA, Harvard Medical School, federal government agencies, academic and research institutions, and industry leaders. He advises organizations on innovation strategies with a focus on starting and scaling open innovation practices. He has worked extensively on programs that focus on data science, development and use of artificial intelligence, technology commercialization, and the future of work. Prior to joining the LISH team, he worked at the Harvard Kennedy School and Mathematica Policy Research. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

Michael Tushman

Michael L. Tushman is the Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor of Business Administration, Organizational Behavior and Chair for the Program for Leadership Development at Harvard Business School. Professor Tushman is internationally recognized for his work on the relations between technological change, executive leadership and organization adaptation. His work centers on the role of senior teams in building organizations that host incremental as well as discontinuous innovation as well as leading those organizational changes associated with innovation streams. His work on ambidextrous organizational designs focuses on organizational and senior team characteristics that enable firms to exploit current capabilities as well explore into new spaces. He is working on the impact of distributed innovation on incumbent firms and the role of organizational identity in shaping a firm’s ability to handle paradoxical strategic requirements.

Karim Lakhani

Karim R. Lakhani is a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and one of the Principal Investigators of the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH). He specializes in the management of technological innovation in firms and communities. His research is on distributed innovation systems and the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities. He has extensively studied the emergence of open source software communities and their unique innovation and product development strategies. He has also investigated how critical knowledge from outside of the organization can be accessed through innovation contests. Currently, Professor Lakhani is investigating incentives and behavior in contests and the mechanisms behind scientific team formation through field experiments on the Topcoder platform and the Harvard Medical School.

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