Anyone who has worked in a startup knows that corporate innovation labs are the dream. Lots of funding and the same no rules, think outside the box attitude that startups pride themselves on. Same fun minus the funding problems. But innovating like a startup might not be the right approach. Let’s ask the big question, are innovation labs useful?
Over the last few months, Mobile Geeks has been asking questions about Innovation. What does it mean? Its history and most of all how we think that everyone is using the word wrong. A trip to Samsung’s Innovation museum helped me come to that realization. So when my 2019 calendar started to see invitations to Innovation Labs, and my mixed feelings on accepting the invitations has led to this article.
Are you sure you want to innovate like a startup?
Your average startup will succeed 0.2% of the time while at corporation who moves slowly but doesn’t have a strategy of throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks, will succeed 12.5% of the time according to the Harvard Business Review.
Innovation labs, corporate accelerators and incubators, or however you call it, are places where corporate intrapreneurs get together – sometimes with additional partners, such as startups or external entrepreneurs – to explore interesting areas unbound by corporate bureaucracy and restrictions. At least that’s the idea.
Innovation labs are meant to spark innovation that can be re-integrated into the company’s business, once its value proposition has been validated. They are extremely popular. Almost every large company has some kind of innovation lab these days, or is trying to create one.
Unfortunately, innovation labs often turn out to be a lot more like innovation theater. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of colourful smoke and people wearing strange glasses. It’s a very enjoyable experience, yes. But apart from some ear-shattering explosions, nothing is really created in the end.
That’s my impression of them so far, anyway.
So as we enter 2019 and what appears to be its overwhelming love of Innovation labs and companies wanting to show them off to the press. I’m going to define a series of questions that will help to identify if an innovation lab is useful or if it’s an image campaign designed to make companies seem cooler than they are.
1. Are there tangible results?
Most innovation labs measure their success based on the number of new ideas they’ve created, number of presentations held at innovation conferences or media mentions they’ve gotten for their thoughts on innovation.
Success is often not measured in the creation of tangible products.
In the world I live in, ideas are free, it’s your ability to execute on them that counts.
2. Where is the Strategic Alignment?
A startup that is given total freedom to innovate but does not consider the ecosystem in which it’s launching will fail. For corporate startups to be successful they should be in line with the company’s core business and strategic priorities. Companies don’t buy startups that don’t complement what they’re already doing.
Thinking that rules and limitation are bad for innovation and that total freedom is needed for real innovation isn’t the best way forward. Defining the area you need to innovate in will ensure a better outcome.
Autonomy in alignment, this requires clear vision on how the start up with impact the company. There is a great medium article on this, with a photo that I think sums things up.
3. How long will the right people work for you?
Innovation labs are full of hot go-getters who are often recruited with the promise of big funding and a startup environment. Maybe this is my jaded perception but Innovation labs seem to be full of people who couldn’t cut as an entrepreneur, or have no experience bringing a successful product to market.
They do have a lot of experience playing entrepreneur, including table soccer, working with a laptop on a sofa, wearing sneakers and hoodies and whatever other innovation clichés you can imagine. They’ll be good a giving presentation about their experience BUT they won’t have created anything that has delivered tangible results.
4. Has the Innovation Lab Identified the problem they’re looking to solve?
Specific purpose innovation labs have a higher chance of being interesting in my eyes. They will have identified a specific problem they are looking to solve. If this lab is purpose driven, they might want to think of renaming it. I might have less of a problem with a “Future of Mobility Lab” than an Innovation Lab.
A big question that I want to ask is: Are the projects insight driven based innovations?
This means looking into how much ecosystem understanding and context are the corporations providing to the Innovation labs?
Having access to the insights and learning of companies is a huge advantage, some labs seem to be insulated from the parent company for fear of tainting the pureness of the innovation process.
Corporations need to stop setting up siloed innovation departments or innovation labs that are just for show.
Too many companies try to check the “innovation box” or – even worse – to make the company appear more innovative in shiny corporate brochures by establishing structures that are unsuited to create true innovation.
It could very well be that Everyone Using the word innovation wrong is at the heart of the problem!
What do you think? Am I being too harsh?