Insight

Innovation Lab: Is it just a trendy new name for the R&D department?

Feb 18, 2016

Innovation is more than just flip-flops and bean bags. You can’t hire a group of like-minded geeks and shove them into a room, never to be seen again, and call that innovation. As with all departments in a business, the Innovation Lab needs proper management to maximise its efficiency and output. So, how is it any different from the ‘traditional’ R&D department?

R&D is an arm of a business that leads the creation and improvement of products. It’s not expected to make a profit in the short-term. It’s a long-term investment, making it inherently riskier. But, if managed properly, it can produce some excellent results and drive the business forward.

The Innovation Lab, on the other hand, challenges its own company to think differently, encouraging a spirit of creativity throughout. It’s there to promote ingenious thinking in all areas of the business, not just product development.

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Beyond creating and improving products, the Innovation Lab needs to change the perceptions of the company that spawned it. It needs to become a beacon of light to the rest of the firm, embodying a culture of ideation, rather than doing its bidding.

The idea of the Innovation Lab is the equivalent to embedding an agile start-up within a large company, getting the best of both worlds. It’s shielded from a potential lack of revenue and the developers aren’t working to put food on the table. Like a start-up, however, it still has that enthusiasm and insight to drive ideas forward.

Amid the current digital revolution, companies need to challenge themselves so the competition doesn’t overtake them. They need to adapt, completely changing their business models just to survive. Apple has managed to reinvent itself and has become richer than Azerbaijan in the process. Companies such as Blockbuster Video, Kodak and Woolworths fared far less well.

We were always told to not be disruptive at school. But it’s disruptive, energetic and challenging people who can drive change within companies. A company needs a good proportion of mavericks to push change through. It’s these first movers who achieve the critical mass needed to ensure wide adoption of their change, as this video demonstrates.

Of course, you can’t only have mavericks. You still need the straight shooters to keep business going as usual and bring the money in. But it’s important to show you value the mavericks, especially if they’re given shiny new MacBooks and an inspiring office to create their magic in.

Our research into how organisations innovate shows the top reasons for not taking the plunge are fear of failure, low return on investment and lack of focus. These are enough to stifle the seeds of change even though innovation is all about learning from failure, scaling only when ideas are ready and trying ingenious new ideas.

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