I spent this past week in beautiful La Jolla, Calif., chairing the Co-Dev 2012 Conference. Here top innovation leaders from all over the country joined me in addressing open innovation’s critical role in achieving higher returns while managing risk, costs and uncertainty.

I have been attending the conference for many years, and every year there are always new faces and perspectives. This year was no different. It was especially exciting with inspiring keynote presentations, case studies, panels and workshops with innovation visionaries presenting from an impressive global cross section of industry.

Clorox, Corning, PepsiCo, Avery Dennison, Mars, Nestle Purina Petcare, United Healthcare, Allergan, GOJO Industries, ConocoPhillips, Kraft, Philips, the Hershey Co., Siemens, General Mills, Nokia Siemens, MeadWestVaco and Unilever all sent representatives to make it a memorable event. It was also a special treat this year in the preconference workshops to have the participation of executives from the world-class San Diego Zoo.

At the conference there was a focus on several factors that all organizations, regardless of size, can take advantage of. One consistent theme of the conference is open innovation, an area that I always enthusiastically support. We worked together to discuss ways to better identify and implement open business models to achieve faster results, including how to consider external innovation solutions sooner. New engagement platforms were also introduced to help companies better “co-innovate” with customers, partners and suppliers.

In addition there were general discussions of how to accelerate the pace at which a company can adapt to changing marketplace conditions and how to develop complex deal structures to effectively manage IP rights. All of these areas are especially relevant to business today, and I’m sure they will make good topics for exploring in future columns.

For this year’s attendees, it wasn’t hard to quickly realize that the “what” of the innovative solution is more important than “where” and “who” it comes from. The companies presenting demonstrated that by leveraging the capabilities, new ideas, technologies, products and services of others they were able to conduct strategic experiments at lower levels of risk and resources. Over time, they also were able to evolve to a more innovative culture, from the outside in.

These companies also discussed some of the challenges they still face within their organizations. It is especially hard for them during these economically challenged times to find the required amount of funds and resources to do what they feel they need to do.

Defining the “right” comprehensive business model and gaining alignment from the top-down were cited as critical to the ultimate success of a project. In addition, they believe that investing enough time to build collaborative relationships and manage the key “touch points” of strategic relationships was also very important.

Above all, I found that the conference offered the attendees an unparalleled opportunity to continue to build on their professional network. Spending a few days with such a large group of innovation leaders from top-performing companies always gets me enthused to see the current trends, new insights and how the best companies are successfully leveraging their open innovation efforts into business success.

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