Sourcing Innovation in the Digital Age

35 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2020 Last revised: 17 Oct 2020

See all articles by Neil Thompson

Neil Thompson

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL); MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

Didier Bonnet


Sarah Jaballah

Capgemini Invent; MIT Initiative on Digital Economy

Date Written: October 16, 2020


This paper introduces a 2018 innovation survey of 300 large firms sampled to be representative of corporate innovation in 8 countries from around the world. Senior innovation leaders at these large companies were asked more than 100 questions about how they innovate and which internal and external innovation sources they use. These questions also gathered data on two innovation projects per firm, for a total of 600 across our sample.

We find that open innovation at these companies is pervasive, but also recent. Only in the past five years have many firms started innovating with external partners like universities, third-party experts, startups or crowd. Overwhelmingly, firms use these new external innovation sources for digital technologies where they have internal capability shortfalls. Despite the remarkable growth in the use of external innovation sources, internal innovation sources remain more important for companies and produce the projects most likely to provide competitive advantage.

Keywords: innovation sources, capabilities, digital, open innovation, competitive advantage

JEL Classification: O32

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Neil and Bonnet, Didier and Jaballah, Sarah, Sourcing Innovation in the Digital Age (October 16, 2020). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 6164-20, Available at SSRN: or

Neil Thompson (Contact Author)

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) ( email )

32 Vassar Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-324-6029 (Phone)


MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
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Didier Bonnet

IMD ( email )

Ch. de Bellerive 23
P.O. Box 915
CH-1001 Lausanne

Sarah Jaballah

Capgemini Invent ( email )

147-151 Quai du Président Roosevelt
Issy-les-Moulineaux, 92130

MIT Initiative on Digital Economy ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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