Your company decided to inaugurate a brand-new Innovation Lab. For those not familiar with the concept, ordinarily, this is a part of a business tasked with developing new ideas, products and technologies.
This is great news – companies that successfully implement an innovation lab can bring products to market more quickly, disrupt the industry with transformative solutions, offer clients a service above and beyond what they were used to and present the company to the outside world as modern and forward-thinking.
But before you dive into new projects, what are the key things to remember? And how can you ensure your lab adds value to the business?
What’s the motivation?
It’s essential to know what you want to achieve as an innovation team – even if you won’t necessarily have a defined return-on-investment at the start. Key players within the business, whether that’s the CEO, or individuals from Finance, HR, Sales, or Marketing teams should share the vision for the Innovation Lab and be invested in its outcomes. At its heart it should aim to achieve ambidexterity throughout the company, that is, being able to cope with tomorrow’s demand without losing focus on today’s business.
How does the Innovation Lab fit into the wider company strategy?
Even if you’re not expected to deliver revenue to the group in the short term, how will the work you’re doing complement what the wider company is doing? In short, the lab shouldn’t be introduced because it sounds like something you should be doing, or as a thinly veiled marketing exercise. It should be a central part of the company’s overall direction and feed into its continued success – driving a cultural shift towards an innovation-oriented mindset across the company’s staff.
Have your own identity
It’s important to know your own industry, business, and people. Of course, there’s always room for learnings from other companies and industry experts, as well as an openness to seek advice from outside sources. But remember and keep hold of what makes your company great, the philosophy that it has been built around, and trust those around you.
For example, At Deltatre, my colleagues and I underwent a full branding exercise in coordination with the brand and communication team, resulting in the Lab’s own visual style and logo. The benefit is that now there is something the company can organise around when talking about our innovation.
Creating the right work environment
There should be significant emphasis placed on creating a space where ideas can flourish, where workers are encouraged to investigate solutions, and where they are supported in their work.
A sense of openness and sharing is vital. Ideally, anyone working with the innovation lab should have the freedom to explore new, exciting ideas which they think will lead to progress for the company. It’s also important to realise when someone needs space to work alone, while also recognising when it’s best to collaborate with peers on a project. It is also worth mentioning that at Deltatre, every single employee is welcome and indeed encouraged to work with the Lab on projects.
Building the right team
Above all, there should be a commitment to fostering an inclusive environment and recruiting people with different stories to tell. Only by bringing on people with varying expertise, will you be able to approach complex technological challenges from different angles, while also promoting internal learning.
Dialogue with the wider business
In any organisation, there is not always a complete understanding of what certain parts of the company does. The introduction of an Innovation Lab may well be very exciting for the business, but some may want more information about it. Encouraging drop-in sessions for those not directly involved in the lab itself will help foster that sense of togetherness, and commitment to the same aims.
On top of this, it’s important for those working in the lab to keep a close eye on the progress of the business more generally; which clients have come on board, how those clients are adapting to industry changes, and how they can help influence their strategy.
Be prepared to fail
There will be times when you hit a dead end with your work and ideas. It may seem like something you were deeply invested in comes to nothing and you’re back to square one. If this happens, there is always a chance to learn and adapt your approach for the next idea or project, as well as the chance to re-prioritize. There are hundreds of reasons which may cause an idea to fail: technology, market maturity, know-how availability for example. Being able to identify when a project is beginning to run into a dead-end is also important in this context.
Which leads us to…
Let’s be realistic
When your Innovation Lab opens, naturally the team will be full of vibrant enthusiasm, ready to tackle any and every challenge that is in front of them. The reality, however, is that some projects will be more manageable than others. Some may require more human resources than is possible to provide; others may be limited by the technology you have at your disposal.
Similarly, there may be so many projects you want to tackle, that you aren’t able to invest as much as you want into each one. The key is to be realistic and maintain a sense of practicality in terms of what can be achieved. Again, what is realistic needs to be shared by the senior decision-makers in the company, as early on as possible.
Identifying real problems
While it may be tempting to work on a project that seems impressive or ‘in vogue’ at first glance, it’s important to consider whether the work will provide tangible benefits both to any future client, and the marketplace more generally. Identifying where there are gaps in the market, or challenges that clients are facing is central to achieving this. This means placing an emphasis on research, evaluation, and learning.
Know when to go public with your findings
There will come a time in the future when you have developed an idea, tested it, and think you are ready to either involve real-world clients or bring to the market in another way. This will naturally involve conversations with sales and marketing, account managers, and other key stakeholders. Do they fully understand what you have created? And how are you going to clearly communicate this to the outside world?
While there is a lot to remember here – and the scale of the challenge ahead may appear daunting – aligning yourself and your lab with these key principles will help your staff, your projects and ultimately your business thrive.