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Open innovation "à la carte": Adjusting between Strategic Focus Fields and Serendipity Opportunities

Updated: Mar 31

Managing exploration of Strategic Focus Fields and Serendipity Opportunities requires a different approach for open-innovation. The context is different in those two cases and requires certain types of collaboration and partnership for each ones in order to improve and extend our corporate innovation pipeline.

  • In the first case, it is about gathering expert knowledge and identifying technological building blocks that complements internal capabilities.

  • In the second case, it is about observing new trends, behaviors and identifying connection between disciplines.

There are two complementary frameworks that have been largely adopted by the innovation management community in the industry:


Illustration: "Menu ou à la carte?" in a Michelin stars restaurant in Alsace, France

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The difference between Strategic Focus Fields and Serendipity Opportunities is that the first one is working on a well-structured problem, whereas second one is addressing an ill-defined problem. In both case, they are looking for solutions from defined closed group of experts or from larger community in the ecosystem. We have integrated the two frameworks into a unique model to compare open innovation approaches:

  • Mode 1: Well-structured problems related to well-understood solutions

  • Mode 2: Ill-defined problems related to solutions know how

  • Mode 3: Well-structured problems related to hidden solutions

  • Mode 4: Ill-defined problems related to unknown knowledge for solutions

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The typical approach for Strategic Focus Fields is somehow similar to an R&D unit. Knowing that exploration is a steep curve of building knowledge, partnering to secure a know-how or licensing a technology can accelerate the maturity of a future new business. Such a partnering, we call mode 1, would come at high cost and should therefore be at the core of the technology platform considered for future new business. In order to extend the platform core to new applications we suggest to use the mode 3 for leveraging a community with some call for proposals. There are many clusters of innovative companies or some technology transfer offices that can relay a competition for new projects on dedicated areas of interest. This also come at a cost of event management and recognition prize with some future mode 1 partnering to follow with.


When looking at Serendipity Opportunities, many companies struggle providing room for creativity and accepting the inherent uncertainties, two characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset. A great way is to start with your means, the technologies and the already formulated needs from existing users. This is mode 2, by finding unique combination of existing assets and adding new insight from different pool of users, new solutions can emerge. Here we would use for instance design thinking and effectuation to foster the re-purposing of technologies. Here, when managing the process in a lean way and by using internal assets you end up at very cost effective way to produce innovative new business. In addition, you can leverage your community to accelerate adoption of the solutions and its spread. This is what happen in mode 4, where you should accept to loose control on how your business could shape but could jumpstart a new business quite fast and at low cost. Again a very entrepreneurial approach that is difficulty accepted in a corporate environment.

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