what if innovation blog starting an innovation lab

Starting an Innovation Lab: 6 Tips for Success

By Geoff Gibbins
With growing pressure for ‘DIY innovation’, more and more corporations are building innovation labs or innovation centers — often located in new, shiny spaces away from the main corporate campus

With growing pressure for ‘DIY innovation’, more and more corporations are building innovation labs or innovation centers — often located in new, shiny spaces away from the main corporate campus.  

While innovation labs offer great potential, they often face an uphill battle to gain broad internal approval and for their projects to gain traction within the corporation. Here are 6 tips for success that we’ve picked up over the years: 


  1. Be clear that you’re serving the corporation
    And, how it’s important to role model that the lab is in service of the corporation — and is accountable for being valuable to it —not the other way round. Communicate a clear story as to why the lab exists, which type projects it should work on (and which it shouldn’t), and why those projects benefit from there being an innovation lab. 
  2. ‘Negative ego’ 
    Don’t be special. Negative ego is critical in all interactions with the corporation at large. It’s very important to not come across as arrogant or ‘special’. This needs to start at the top, filter down to how you hire and promote, and come through in how the lab collaborates with other corporate functions (particularly technical, operational or back-of-house functions). Also, be open to feedback around how you’re doing. 
  3. Start small with ‘experiment’
    Start with a focused set of projects, and treat them as experiments to help you learn how to build a successful formula for adding value to the corporation. It’s also important to set the right expectations around the time horizon for success — don’t make too many promises early, simply show people your early wins. And always be clear it will take at least 2–3 years to see impact. 
  4. Protect your influence and funding
    Create a clear governance approach for the innovation lab, with an oversight structure that has the influence to make changes happen within the corporation at large — and use that governance and influence to protect the lab’s control over project funding, at least for its first few years. 
  5. Avoid ‘vanity projects’
    All too often, innovation labs hold on to vanity projects born in the lab which don’t fit with the strategy of the corporation. These projects derail the impact and reputation of the innovation lab, becoming a punchline in jokes — and undermine the good decisions that are made. 
  6. Be genuinely useful for the corporation 

    Be thoughtful about some targeted ways in which the corporation can benefit from some of the unique benefits of the center — like its location, access to resources and methods. And be generous about sharing those resources with the corporation. 

For more information and advice on how to run successful innovation labs, and how we support innovation labs through capability building and project coaching, contact Geoff Gibbins (geoff.gibbins@dev.whatifinnovation.com)
 

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