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

Innovation is more than just flip-flops and bean bags. You cannot 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 to be managed properly 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 is not expected to make a profit in the short-term, but is more of a long term investment. This inherently makes it more risky, due to the uncertainty of results. However, if managed properly, it can produce some excellent results and drive the business forward.

The Innovation Lab is not something new, however, its terminology has been misused for an R&D-type team. It is the job of the Innovation Lab to challenge its own company to think differently - encouraging a spirit of creativity throughout.

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[1].

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 is 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.

In the midst of the current digital revolution, companies need to challenge themselves to avoid being swallowed up by the competition. Organisations need to adapt, completely changing their business models just to survive. Apple has managed to reinvent itself and has become richer than Azerbaijan[2] 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. However, it’s disruptive, energetic and challenging people who can drive change within companies. A good proportion of mavericks are required within a company in order to push change through[3]. Mirroring the innovation adoption cycle, they can achieve the critical mass needed to ensure majority adoption of their change, as demonstrated in this video[4].

Of course you can’t have everyone as a maverick, or else nothing would get done! You still need the straight shooters to keep business going as usual, as that is what’s required to bring the money in. However, it’s important to demonstrate that they are valued, especially if the mavericks are given shiny new MacBooks and an inspiring office to create their magic in[5].

According to PA Consulting Group’s latest research, Innovation as Unusual, the top reasons for not taking the plunge and innovating are fear of failure, low return on investment and lack of focus. These are enough to stifle the seeds of change.

Is your company attempting to innovate or set up its own lab, but facing a mountain of pressure and no direction?
















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