Innovation labs don't seem to be getting a lot of positive press these days. Anderee Berengian recently told VentureBeat that we have to admit that the "hipster money pits" are “not working”; and Tendayi Viki voiced similar concerns in his Forbes article, 'Five Reasons Your Boss Was Right To Shut Down Your Innovation Lab'.
Bad press aside, I was determined to learn about the positive contributions of innovation labs around the globe. I tracked down Tendayi Viki and Anderee Berengian as well as some of the world's leading edge organizations to ask them just what makes an innovation lab successful and to give me examples of innovation labs that are indeed working, thriving and succeeding.
Nick Sherrard, Managing Director, Market Gravity, Edinburgh, @NickSherrard
"For us at MG Edinburgh the whole approach to innovation is shifting from the world of R&D (i.e. research and development processes hidden from public view, exploring theories of what the future might be) to the world of Experiment & Scale (i.e. working in a really open way with customers and partners, rapidly developing and iterating new ideas and approaches).
"That shift is the same core shift whichever industry you are in. Banks used to make you sign 5 Non-Disclosure Agreements before you were allowed to know what their lab was even planning to think about, now pioneers like Studio B (Market Gravity in partnership with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks) are situated on the high street and entirely open to the public. Artists and entertainers used to hate people like me sharing a picture from rehearsal or anything being public that wasn't finished and perfect -- now they stream the work-in-progress for all to see (and use the feedback).
"Fundamentally, innovation is enabled by technology, but it's a people problem. It takes people to work in the lab who work well together, and who are willing to love the problem not the solution.
"The interesting thing too is that, inevitably, when you look at a thing like Studio B, everyone's attention will be drawn to the amazing design, the screens and the technology involved. But the key feature of that lab is not really that. The key element in that lab is having a leader like Helen Page as Innovation and Marketing Director, who is willing to support early-stage ideas, spot the best ones, and mobilise her department around a vision for the future that is bold and genuinely has the best interests of customers at heart."
Anderee Berengian, Chairman and CEO, CIE Digital Labs, Managing Partner, Rezven Partners, @anderee
"I'm proud to be a part of the vibrant community of local innovation labs in Southern California that are making a significant impact. Jeff Schumacher and his team at BCG Digital Ventures based in Manhattan Beach are helping global organizations solve problems of the future with incredibly forward-thinking, consumer-first digital solutions. As just one example, Irvine-based Auto Gravity -- the 'Lending Tree' app for automotive finance -- resulted from an innovative partnership with Daimler AG focused on transforming how buyers finance their vehicles. There are countless other examples like these that we’re excited to bring to the market, which will further color our dynamic tech landscape and add value to consumers."
David Pessah, Director KPMG Innovation Lab,
"Companies worldwide are struggling to evolve their business models in a rapidly accelerated market and digitizing world. The Innovation Lab @ KPMG Ignition helps clients embark on new pathways to growth, reimagine how they engage with customers, and drive innovation through investment to unlock new forms of value.
"In one instance, executives from a financial services company engaged our lab to discover ways to capitalize on payments IP. Executives needed deeper context around changing customer expectations and payment behaviors, and to gain a stronger handle on the latest technology innovation and a deeper perspective of investments competitors are making. Through design thinking exercises, the Innovation Lab uncovered what competitors, tech giants, VCs and key startups were doing in this space and tailored an approach toward getting closer to their customers."
Kwame Ferreira, Founder and CEO, Impossible, @impossible_labs
"One of the best examples in our company's experience would be Nikabot, a Slackbot that tracks your team’s time. Nikabot was developed at Impossible Ventures, our company's innovation lab. The idea of Nikabot originated at our monthly hackathon where everyone can present and work on their ideas. We named the bot after Nika, our Lisbon studio manager, whose job was to keep track of what everyone was doing - projects, times, and places, and report them to our CFO. Since we're always on Slack, we decided to build a Slackbot that would do exactly that. That's how Nikabot was born.
"Nikabot asks you one question a day – 'What did you work on yesterday?' She then gathers that information and creates accurate Gantt charts and reports so you keep track of projects, bill clients, and have an overview of what your team is doing. Team managers get accurate, timely data, and can make well-informed decisions.
"Impossible became a testbed for Nikabot. After that we ran it in open beta for a year, having thousands of teams try it and give us feedback. Last September we introduced pricing, and Nikabot became a business with a dedicated team working on it full time. We're happy to be helping many companies around the world to track their teams' work in a less intrusive, more efficient way."
Cristene Gonzalez Wertz, Electronics Research Director,
IBM Institute for Business Value, @hermione1
"One of my personal favorites is
IBM US Cycling JStart. This is an amazing example of lab approaches -- with results. In this case, a world championship and silver medal for the US women's cycling team… where shaving tenths of seconds off a time is enough to win. And while this is about sporting performance, it's really not. Imagine you're an oil company and you want to protect workers in some of the most remote and dangerous conditions on the planet (or even a factory). One sleep-deprived or stressed worker can hurt themselves and take down performance of the entire line/plant/entity. Wouldn't a cardiac doctor want to be able to observe his performance during surgery the same way a golfer would, where the outcomes are measured in lives saved? Wouldn't you personally like to correlate when you're doing your best writing (based on metrics you choose) and the conditions that drove it?"
Tendayi Viki, Principal at Benneli Jacobs, Author of The Corporate Startup, @tendayiviki
"My favourite example is Intuit Labs. There are great lessons there."
(Writer's note: Intuit's mantra is that they empower each employee to be an innovator, offering them precious 'time and freedom to work on what they love.')
Bibop Gresta, Chairman, Co-Founder , Hyperloop Transportation Technologies @BibopGGresta
"Our Hyperloop System was conceived uniquely. The usual path of partners organizing a company is to populate it with the necessary personnel through the traditional interview process, then fill chairs. But to build something new and get the absolute best talent to join, a completely different model was needed. NASA and others have tried a pure open source model, but for most innovative projects, open source does not work. My co-founder Dirk Ahlborn has said, 'We discovered a way to combine open source with building a business.' The developments that we've made through our HTT Labs, our innovation hub, could not have come about without a strenuous effort to create a new type of collaborative entity. The virtual windows, so vital to a safe passenger experience, application of a new version of MagLev for the everyday energy net-positive operation of each passenger capsule, a new VR environment for a 24-7 global collaborative workspace -- none of this would be possible without our unique business model. Because we have innovated our business structure and work methods, other industries can concurrently benefit from our experience and our products.
"My co-founder and I have often said that when looking for a talented engineer, you shouldn't chase funding for the salary, you should seek the engineer. This is keenly true when building a product that is ground-breaking like our Hyperloop. A new business model had to exist to attract the best minds globally and allow agile scalability for any iteration of this project, and especially the efforts from our HTT Labs. Innovation would have been impossible without the structure of our collaborative model. We call it Lean Collaboration. Harvard, University of Southern California, Santa Clara University, house some of the best business management minds in the world. Several key individuals from these honored institutions have become collaborators, team members here at HTT, discovering the power of our new business model. Rapid development of Virtual Windows for each passenger capsule, application of a new energy net-positive version of MagLev for levitation and propulsion, and a new VR environment for global 24-7 collaboration would not have been possible in a traditional business structure. Now even industries outside of transportation can benefit from the technology developed within HTT Labs."
Pete Sayburn, CEO of Market Gravity, will lead and facilitate the innovation curriculum this June at the Google/London Tech Week 5-Day Innovation Mini-MBA, which will empower participants to take corporate innovation frameworks and capabilities back to their organisations. Whether you work in marketing, development, innovation, finance or sales, the London Tech Week 5-Day Innovation Mini-MBA program will set you up with the tools you need to transform your ideas into reality and trigger cultural change.
— Leah Kinthaert, Digital Transformation Lead, Informa