Innovation is a hot topic everywhere. The ONF principals speak of the importance of openness as core to how network innovation can be accelerated, and cite the respected work of Clay Christensen of HBS. What I find personally confusing about the innovation discussion broadly is Apple, the company that unquestionably benefits the most from innovation. Apple is closed and vertically integrated, both of which are taboo in the teachings of Christensen. I talked about this with one of Christensen’s students and friends (Clay himself is harder to reach having had a remarkably trying last couple of years) and got an interesting explanation. Basically the argument is that within all large companies there are strong organizational forces that will tend to kill threatening innovation (often known informally as “antibodies”), and this can be most easily bypassed if the innovation is granular enough so the specific pieces fit within the organizational boundaries (so an existing fiefdom can embrace a piece of innovation rather than fighting it). This in turn translates directly into “open and not vertically integrated.”
Apple avoids these problems by extreme secrecy — keeping the most innovative projects invisible, both within Apple and outside, except to a small core of people (you can’t sabotage what you don’t know about). So I guess you can say that “open and not vertically integrated” is the best you can do unless you can make secrecy work like Apple does.
It is fascinating to me in this context that Nicira – the most successful SDN startup to date (and one of the most successful startups of all time given the financial outcome) – is (and has constantly been) quite secretive in terms of discussing what they are doing, at least with the likes of me. In terms of maximizing their return it was a very smart strategy, and given that should be the primary goal of any VC funded effort (I’m not personally fond of “making the world safer for democracy” as a goal) I think it was the right thing for them to do. But I do think it’s deliciously ironic given what the founders say in the ONF context. What’s that old maxim – Do what I do, not what I say (or is it the other way around).