Corporate innovation labs & how to make them fail

To remain successful, any company has to drive the business forward, or at least keep up with technologic and market changes. In some cases the technological changes even radically transform the market, as famous examples like Kodak and the digital camera, or the digial transformation that changes the hospitality industry and still does.

One way to keep up with these changes is by investing in the new; to innovate. Fueled by the various examples of new technology disrupting traditional business, corporates are pressed to rethink their approach to innovation, and as a result Innovation labs and in-house startups have garnered much attention in the business management world.

Research outlined in this 2016 Cap Gemini report found that 10 new innovation labs are opened every week, and also that 90% of these labs are failing. Unfortunately, efforts to build successful innovation labs and in-house startups is challenging and often fall flat.

Eager to learn from failing many posts and sites have started to share insights on how to be successful with the corporate innovation labs. And yes, this is another one. I have lived through a number of failed innovation labs of various sorts, and eager to understand why (read: discover new mistakes rather than repeating known ones) developed a curiosity in recommendations that make a corporate successful. However, my experience has difficulties confirming the recommendations guarantee or drive towards a successful corporate innovation lab.

1: Alignment with the Business

Alignment with business on process and strategy is important to make sure real customer needs are addressed and there is an interested party in the business that is eager to carry the ideas through. For very practical reasons; the lab can develop an idea only up to a point. What happens next. You do not want find yourself in the same shoes as the Boghog from the panel NowWhat. In addition, important is that this alignment is carried by a wide group at the appropriate level. You do not want to be dependent on a single sponsor and hang the future of you lab on his or her future n the company. Remember how Trump not only is blaming Obama for everything but how he also is actively dismantling whether is recognised as Obama’s legacy.

2: Have metrics to track success

Metrics are just a fancy way to condense large complexity in key indicators that help get an understanding in what direction you are heading. It is a tool to collect and present data, and as with any tool and by itself has no value. You don’t want to collect data, you want to gain insights about direction and speed. For innovation KPI there is no silver bullet. Like any statistic too, metrics give a narrow window on reality and you want to have a view on reality that is valuable for the business environment you are in. Understand what your purpose and then define the metrics that measure the speed at which you go in the right direction?

Any similarity or resemblance with actual situations is pure coincidence. Honest.

3: Balance the team

Innovation thrives in diversity. With tis I do not mean the supervisual diversity such as age, gender, function or educational background, but instead the so-called deep diversity like experiences, cognition and behaviours. You want a team that is diverse in what they bring to the table in how to deal with situations and apply skills and knowledge.

Cargo cult – innovation lab?

The full complexity of operating corporate innovation labs is difficult to fully capture in only a few guidelines, and success rarely is governed by ‘ticking off’ these guidelines without having the experience or understanding that lead to these insights. If you do not have the experience yourself, it helps to find someone who has, at minimum for a brain dump and some critical feedback.

Alternatively, this blog may be helpful as I will suggest a few indicators that the corporate innovation lab is likely to fail, despite good intentions, and following best practices and guidelines.

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