I believe in Innovation Labs

So Many Corporate Innovation Labs, So Little Innovation


Daniel Egger

7/24/20202 min read

a coffee shop with a coffee maker and a coffee maker
a coffee shop with a coffee maker and a coffee maker

In his thought-provoking post, "So Many Corporate Innovation Labs, So Little Innovation," Saul Kaplan questions why numerous innovation and design spaces are stuck on solving minor issues instead of achieving "breakthrough" innovation. While organizations may aspire to think boldly, he observes that they often deliver more short-term and present-focused innovations.

Innovation Labs are a crucial step in the maturing organizational landscape, offering an opportunity to create the future proactively. The concept has finally become mainstream, with the potential to dismantle the innovation project culture and integrate it with strategy and foresight. This integration creates a process that can increase efficiency and establish new Business Logic while addressing present needs.

Today, external changes often trigger crisis management. In moments of distress, organizations prioritize survival, inadvertently shifting their focus to the present. This present-focus dilemma is not new, and many authors have written about the importance of connecting the present and the future. Vijay Govindarajan discusses this in his book, The Three-Box Solution, exploring how to connect the present and the future while "forgetting" the past.

In recent years, I have worked on and written about the same challenge (Future Value Generation) by integrating innovation, foresight, and strategy. I aim to help organizations better connect the present and the future while building on their strategic capabilities. This connection begins with acknowledging the present's importance and addressing its challenges.

Tweaks, cutting the clutter, efficiency, and crisis management are realities that no organizational structure, including Innovation Labs, can escape. As innovators, designers, creative thinkers, and futurists, we should not fight the need for "small" innovations but integrate them into our agenda without losing sight of potential breakthroughs.

I argue that Innovation Labs do not fail; instead, they create different results than expected, which is where the misconception lies. People working in Innovation Labs naturally start, explore, and question. However, organizations are complex structures often driven by the need for rapid change. A shift from supply chains towards a human-centered perspective, progressive technology, evolving values, competition from startups, or simply uncertainty defines the agenda, leading to "fears" of making the wrong decision.

Innovation Labs must understand this dilemma between desire and possibility. We must offer guidance, explore organizational boundaries, push them, go beyond, and simultaneously build upon the present. As Shapers and Guides, we aim to balance plausible future opportunities with strategic tactics, which is challenging but essential for ensuring organizational and economic sustainability.

Innovation is about buy-in, and our goal should be integration. For such challenging tasks, we need exceptional leaders. I agree with Saul that the Leaders of Innovation Labs must bring in a fresh perspective and new ideas rather than being just a "performance manager" or an intern. To excel in Innovation Labs, we require a unique set of capabilities, which I will discuss in my next post.