Why are Innovation Labs not enough?

Modern corporations need to embrace real innovation as part of their day-to-day business. Innovation labs do not guarantee innovation to happen. Operating in a way that employees can actively participate in the idea generation process and executives can constantly and quickly evaluate ideas and business opportunities in an experimentation-driven setup is way more complicated and deep than organizing a lab.

The culture of a company determines the relationships and actions of its employees within the company and shapes its external appearance. That’s a fact. It is not openly visible, but shows itself indirectly.

Innovation culture describes a specific form of culture that is intended to promote the development of innovations within a company. Innovation culture depends both on the strategy of the corporation and the mentality of the workforce: the value system regarding experimentation, collaboration, expertise and knowledge sharing.

Since innovation processes are generally cross-divisional processes, the innovation culture functions as a kind of cross-cutting culture, whose standards and values are shaped and supported by each and every process participant. To reach this real innovation, corporations need to develop a special culture and establish the mechanisms to encourage idea sharing and collaboration.

Innovation is not an isolated Innovation Lab with a group of people working specifically on that. Innovation is a process that involves changing several parts of a company’s functioning in order to move forward and adapt new technologies and processes. Companies are making huge investments to incorporate innovation practices and spirit but in many cases the result is far from successful.

Let’s explore 5 traits an innovative company needs to have:

#1 Ability

Not creativity. In order to generate ideas and turn them into sustainable innovations, employees must be constantly supported and promoted in developing and unfolding their creative potential. Not just for an hour or during an “Innovation Week”. Remember everybody can be creative when they are in a place where there is a process behind that really fosters creativity.

Companies need to enable employees to innovate. This means, they should help them develop specialist knowledge. How? Make innovation culture a top priority, train and inform employees, make tools available and avoid people getting stuck in their own area or department, let them transfer knowledge, cross-divisional innovation workshops with moderation by an external consultant do work. Also, stay open for new techniques and technologies and external know-how. You don’t know it all.

#2 Willingness

Innovative action cannot be ordered. It must be intrinsically motivated in order to establish a lasting culture of innovation in the company. This means that committed and imaginative employees are needed in the company, who are also willing to leave the usual paths of thinking and acting in order to develop an innovation from an idea. This is not just giving them flex Fridays, free fruit or a ping pong table.

Motivate your employees and they’ll increase the willingness to innovate. Raise awareness of the importance of innovation in companies, listen to employees’ ideas, create a space where employees can make mistakes at a low risk. Bonuses, contests, praise and recognition are also appreciated.

#3 Communication

The innovation strategy sets the direction and framework conditions. The expectations and goals regarding innovation should be clear to every employee. Communicate the innovation strategy across all functions and hierarchy levels. Build a campaign, let people know.

#4 Opportunity

Permission is the necessary prerequisite for actually moving from ability and willingness to action. Within a company, therefore, framework conditions must be created that offer employees the opportunity to think and act innovatively and creatively. Time and financial resources, clear goals, efficient communication and fast and effective decision-making structures are key points.

#5 Risk Mindset

The level of innovation of a corporation depends on the level of support experimentation receives from the leadership of the corporation. Failure is part of the overall innovation process, since it can let you get significant feedback, insights, results, metrics and findings for the idea, the prototype or even the process.

Following practices like rapid prototyping, Design Sprint and fail fast, ideas can be quickly tested with real users, iterations happen fast and informed product decisions are made as soon as possible and at minimum cost.

For instance, in a rapid prototyping scenario, the team might realize early enough that, although the prototype looks good and is working fine, the predefined success criteria or user expectations are not met.

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Innovation culture heavily depends both on the strategy of the corporation and the mentality of the workforce. The company needs to continuously search for opportunities for better products and services that bring value to users, employees, the company, the market, the society.

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