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Building an Innovation Lab, Doesn’t Necessarily Make you Innovative

Around the Clearworks “water-cooler” we regularly talk about what is going on in the Innovation space, what’s new, how companies are being successful, how we can continue to build our innovation practice with new approaches to help companies with innovation.  In my inbox this morning was an email from LinkedIn with a summary of news that immediately caught my attention —  Innovation Labs Don’t Work by Andy Howard.

His post outlines the recent failures and mysterious “disappearance” of very well-funded and publicized Innovation Labs from Fortune 100 companies – from Nordstrom to Microsoft to British Airways and beyond.  Why are Innovation Labs failing to generate the innovative breakthroughs their names conjure up?  This quote from the article pretty much sums it up, “Firms aren’t creating innovation labs for the right reasons. ‘Innovation theatre’ is all most innovation labs amount to.”

I have had the privilege to tour several Innovation Labs from big companies and thought the same thing – but didn’t want to say it out loud.  The labs feel like “show pieces” for important customers or the media and a “museum” of all the historically great accomplishments that a company has brought to market.  But, you don’t often hear of any “big” innovations coming out of the dedicated showroom.

Andy outlines the 5 things that he feels is required for innovation success – that have nothing to do with a lab:  People, Commercial Intent, Organizational Architecture, External Collaboration, and – our favorite — Customer Insight.

Innovation is not your internal company’s idea of what customers want and need or what you think the next, greatest break-through will be.  We’ve all seen too many companies who think they have the killer, break-through innovation because it pushes the technology envelope – but no one actually wants to buy it.   Innovation comes from understanding and observing customers in their own environment and involving customers in your company’s innovation initiatives.  They might have the next greatest “X” without even knowing it!

Karie Starrett

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