Blog: Innovation Lab and then what? When the rubber meets the road

Innovation Lab and then what? When the rubber meets the road

Sometime during the nineteen eighties at Philips R&D in Copenhagen a large development project had just been cancelled and the organisation subsequently had surplus of capacity – to put it nicely. There was an atmosphere of anxiety, while the upper management was trying negotiating new assignments for the skilled and experienced team.

Out of the blue a hardware engineer approached the R&D manager and gave him a presentation of a HW device from his desk drawer he had been working on during his ‘spare time’ while discussing details with colleagues ‘during coffee-breaks’. The product proposal was brilliant, the market was not saturated by such solutions back then, and the conclusion was that it was worth a try. Philips Marketing and Sales played along advertising the product sold through the existing channels. Incidentally the innovation by happen-stance ended up forming a new product line for years to come.

Fast-forward 30 years: Several large corporations have launched and touted “Innovation Labs” but many of them have since returned only meagre results of value to the mothership and even some have been terminated.

Few companies allow 10-20% of the work week spent on free innovation best illustrated by the now vacant GoogleLabs.com. Since then, even the praised 20% has been disputed; was it rather 120%?

Other corporations suggest a “5-5-5 Program” approach: bring up an idea to be evaluated by a steering group and if seem valuable, subsequently a grant for 5 weeks of 5 people supported by 5 thousand Euros/Dollars is allocated for further elaboration.

Still innovation comes in many shapes and forms: Most staff today are working long hours at challenging time schedules, yet they still hatch ideas which do not fit into the stressed workflow. Clever employees are – if allowed – a key source to innovative improvements or inspiration to future offerings; they are deeply knowledgeable of the products and services their company currently masters.

Whether ideas are internally bred or output from a semi-detached Innovation Lab they nevertheless require a range of tasks associated with bridging domain knowledge for maturing and back-porting the idea to the organisation to conclude a genuine change.

Innovation labs feed new innovative ideas. The challenge is now to adapt organisation and operationalise.

Make it stick: operational & organisational adaptation

In fact, many companies struggle to find the recipe for how the rubber meets the road: From sketches and mood boards into building a ‘Minimal Viable Product’ to letting select customers proving the commercial assumptions valid, the new product idea, possibly including digital services, should flow back to the organisation.

In Kotter’s change model, ‘making the change stick’ requires lasting adaptation to business processes and organisations to support the new value proposition and product. A sales force optimised to handling boxes with physical products will naturally perceive customer calls for how to manage internet settings as a huge distraction from earlier straightforward sales target.

Capture findings from innovative experiments to motivate the organisation. Apply structural changes in product architecture to support faster implementation cycles and likewise for business processes to accommodate new revenue streams. Eventually it should become an everyday task to trust technology developers to work with business developers and channel customer feedback from Sales directly into the next customer-centric iteration.

The age of coincidental innovation from a desk drawer may be over; especially when the innovation implies a change such as software based services supplementing a physical product. Isolated Innovation Labs lacking expertise in back-porting and internalising the change may have disappointed more than a few corporations. Without sustainable innovation the future of any company is dull: Find ways to bring back the outcome to the company operations and organisation and into the market.

More information:

Senior Advisor Jesper Meulengracht, jesper.meulengracht@glaze.dk, +45 70 23 50 05

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