Navigating new frontiers for AI talent access: Open innovation and collective intelligence

Talent leaders are well positioned to accelerate AI innovation objectives, enabling organizations to access specialized expertise and foster the development of a thriving talent ecosystem in the age of AI.

Global adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning is soaring, ushering in digital transformation that is expected to create significant shifts in labor markets worldwide. As organizations embrace these emerging technologies, pressure on talent acquisition and development is escalating. Building organizational capacity and bench-strength in AI is rapidly moving from a competitive advantage to a competitive necessity. The integration of open innovation and collective intelligence approaches within talent strategies can facilitate AI talent access, acquisition and development.

The age of open innovation and collective intelligence

Open innovation was first introduced in the early 2000s and has since become a core innovation strategy in leading organizations throughout the last decade. In open innovation, an organization engages expertise from outside the boundaries of the organization to generate ideas and develop solutions, sharing the risks and rewards. Innovation practices such as university research partnerships, licensing and acquisitions have long been used by companies to bring new products to market. However, unlike closed practices that primarily rely on internal research and development, open innovation takes a broader, more inclusive approach, harnessing the power of collective intelligence. 

Collective intelligence refers to a distributed approach to generating ideas, contributing knowledge and solving specific problems through in-person or online collaboration and information sharing. Undergirding open innovation and collective intelligence strategies are collaboration and communication platforms that enable and scale group problem-solving, decision-making and knowledge sharing. A key dimension of collective intelligence is the concept of swarming – where a group of independent citizen scientists, technology enthusiasts or creators collaborate to solve a challenging problem.

Together, open innovation and collective intelligence enable organizations to accelerate innovation and achieve outcomes that surpass what they could accomplish on their own. They each provide access to specialized skills and competencies, such as emerging technologies like AI. Notable open innovation strategies leveraging collective intelligence include crowdsourcing, corporate venturing, university collaborations, hackathons, open-source development, technology transfer, participatory community engagement and innovation competitions. 

Open innovation and collective intelligence have proven to be highly effective practices in rapidly changing, interconnected industries and ecosystems or where complex problem-solving, breakthrough solutions, and specialized expertise are needed. A 2022 Economist study found that more than half of the participating organizations leveraged open innovation practices in most of their projects. A new study from IBM shows that organizations employing open innovation strategies had a 59 percent higher rate of revenue growth than organizations that didn’t. 

Companies that rely heavily on innovation and emerging technologies often develop their own open innovation ecosystems and collaboration networks. However, even companies that are not technology-driven, as well as smaller to mid-sized companies without extensive research and development capabilities, are also discovering the benefits of collaborating externally using open innovation. 

Exceptional talent opportunities

As the war for AI and other specialized talent intensifies, organizations leveraging open innovation and collective intelligence have a distinct competitive advantage with talent access, recruiting and organization capacity-building. Technology-driven multinational companies like GE, Siemens, Phillips, Haier Group, Baidu, Google and Microsoft have developed innovation ecosystems using the full spectrum of open innovation approaches that have become standard ways of doing business. 

Actively engaging with an integrated network of ecosystem partners that include AI labs, innovation circles, corporate ventures, open sourcing networks, accelerators, student projects and research consortia has given these organizations unfettered access to top talent around the world. External collaboration and risk sharing with expert resources provides new avenues for outsourcing key initiatives and unprecedented opportunities for upskilling and reskilling employees. Crowdsourcing facilitated by digital platforms and competitions with appealing rewards like scholarships, monetary prizes and paid internships attract young innovators, augmenting traditional candidate identification and recruitment methods.

Around the world, organizations that bridge the public and private sector have also made open innovation a critical component of their innovation endeavors and talent efforts. In the U.S., NASA has sponsored hundreds of open innovation initiatives to accelerate projects, enhance creativity, reduce costs and engage key stakeholders. Doing so expands their ability to collect and analyze scientific data, develop new technologies and solve complex problems. NASA’s Artemis campaign aims to establish a long-term presence on the moon and involves large, complex hardware and infrastructure being developed by NASA, contractors and international partners. Through open innovation, NASA has gained access to citizen scientists, students and researchers that might not otherwise be available to them, while also providing opportunities for diverse talent in underserved populations to address inclusion and equity goals.

Still, other organizations in the business and educational sectors such as LEGO, General Assembly and Moodle have selectively employed smaller scale open innovation and collective intelligence strategies for consumer ideation and engagement initiatives, successfully extending their solution development capacities. Specifically, in identifying AI talent, inventive university and independent investor collaborations like the Vesuvius Challenge attracted some of the brightest young AI minds around the world with a million-dollar prize to leverage machine learning and x-ray technology to decipher unrolled, charred papyri from a volcanic eruption that occurred in 79 A.D. 

The vital role of talent management teams in open innovation

Talent management teams within an organization have the opportunity to accelerate access to AI talent and support new resourcing models by closely integrating recruiting efforts with open innovation and collective intelligence initiatives. This approach requires a shift from traditional recruiting and onboarding paradigms to more dynamic talent acquisition and engagement strategies for AI hires.

Through open innovation, talent teams can help their organizations build new capacities and upskill or reskill staff by leveraging these networks of expert resources and supporting technologies for top priorities. Talent management is integral to how organizations can optimize the benefits of open innovation in support of their organization’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

Talent management teams can also provide valuable perspectives on how to use rewards, compensation and incentives most effectively within open innovation frameworks. While financial incentives are crucial, talent leaders recognize the importance of non-monetary rewards such as access, feedback and learning opportunities. By defining the necessary inputs and investments for resourcing, talent leaders can ensure open innovation activities are adequately supported.

Successful open innovation requires robust resource planning, effective risk management and seamless communication. Talent management teams are experts at leading strategic staffing, candidate selection, negotiation, compensation, expectation setting and onboarding. In addition to leading the hiring process for internal hires, talent leaders are valuable advisors to hybrid teams with external partners. Compensation and rewards benchmarking and budgeting can help mitigate the risks of higher or unanticipated costs involved in coordinating some open innovation resourcing and teaming activities. Talent management teams can also play a vital role in fostering a culture of innovation, ensuring that open innovation activities are compliant with HR policies and processes and that successes are celebrated and communicated.