Blog : Design Thinking

Innovation or Innovation Theater?

Innovation or Innovation Theater?

Most Innovation Efforts Yield Poor ROI

“But when I have drilled down into the work the so-called innovation labs were actually doing day-to-day, I have discovered that it is actually the innovation managers that “don’t get innovation” It turns out your boss was right to shut down your lab and here are five reasons why.” Forbes, Tendayi Viki

We try and stay pretty positive about innovation and disruption – after all, it is what we do for a living. However, I saw this article recently, and it struck a chord with our entire team.

Five Reasons Your Boss Was Right To Shut Down Your Innovation Lab

From the article, we agree with the author’s points about:

  1. Most people working innovation labs tend to conflate innovation with creativity.
  2. A lot of innovation labs are working on projects that are not aligned with the parent company’s strategic goals.
  3. Innovation labs need to have a strategic focus.
  4. The job of an innovation manager is not to imitate the outcomes of innovative companies (i.e. ping pong tables and bean bags), but to understand and implement innovation practices to create one.
  5. After many years, most innovation labs have to demonstrate impact.
NYU Tandon School of Engineering, CITE Game Innovation Lab

How Do You Know If Your Innovation Effort Needs Disrupting?

I am proud that (before it was all the rage) I was one of the 1st Chief Innovation Officers in healthcare.   As part of a $12-billion-dollar machine that had been running pretty much the same way for 75 years, I certainly found the task daunting.  Coming from the startup world, where I had successfully helped launch national healthcare disruptors like RediClinic and The Little Clinic, it was a shock to the system (mine and theirs). That journey is food for another story. However, my time there changed me in a very positive way, and I am certainly pleased with the results.

I mention it, however, because the article above made me realize what I could not verbalize but was feeling – most corporate innovation programs are little more than “innovation as theater.”  Even with best intentions, many of them have missed their purpose, which is to disrupt. Instead, many innovation managers busy themselves (and burden others) with the non-essential work.

We decided to add in a few self-check questions that we believe all innovation managers should ask themselves. And if the answer is “Yes” (please be honest here) to most of them – then you probably need to rethink your innovation efforts.

  • Is your Innovation Lab more than walking distance for more than 95% of your employee base?If so, bad idea. Innovation is for anyone who can contribute – incrementally or significantly. Who are we to think innovation only lies with a small team? This approach is a sure fire way of creating the “us vs. them” scenario.
  • Do less than half of your “market ready” innovation projects get adopted by the core business?If so, then you are probably innovating for yourself. If no one wants or can use your best work, then you are not aligned with the work of the “core.” Remember, it is the big machine that pays for your experiments (and expresso machine and bean bags). You have to be meaningful to them if you want your work to take root in the market and grow.
  • Do you spend more time at innovation conferences than producing successful “market ready” innovation projects? This one should be obvious. No one can tell you what will disrupt your business better than you. That is what you are paid to do.  As fast as you can, learn the basics of minimum viable product development and agile methodology – and get busy disrupting.  If you want some help learning or doing – call us because this is what we do best.

Well, that is what we think at least.  But hey, we could be wrong. Let us know one way or the other.


To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO

Creativity versus Best Practices

Creativity versus Best Practices

Harness Creativity Through Best Practice

I just perused a presentation that one of my team members gave me from another business pundit that thinks that best practices are a bad idea. It reminds of a book I read called Be an Orange in B-school 15 years ago, and other books I have seen since.

They all expound on the need for us each to be “different” in all ways in how we approach our work. Imagine a company where everyone does everything different – chaos and unhappiness!

This premise that to be different requires avoiding anything in the realm of wisdom or best practices is bad advice. These books seem to be written by folks who while creative have limited understanding on how to lead others.

Keep in mind, at the fundamental level, it is people that get any great idea built and people who must operate a successful company.

creativity through lens of best practice

There are certain types who are better-suited work on the “new-new” and some who prefer absolute consistency. Both are required to run a company. When you find the former, keep and nurture them. But even the ability to thrive in the ambiguity of disruption (new markets and new systems) requires a basis of predictability and consistency in the approach to getting the work done.

In my opinion, these books are outright false, or at least in-genuine. Innovators should always strive for creativity, but leaders must constantly seek a means to simplify what we do through the pragmatism of process and best practice. This makes life easier for those who help us get our ideas to market.

Final Words

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things DoneBy the way, I went to Amazon to see if I could find that Orange book, and as I expected it was not there. Looks like the author has finally come around and has written a new book called The Simple Truth About Your Business: Why Focused and Steady Beats Business at the Speed of Light. I wondered what happened to all those oranges he made? If you want really good advice I suggest skipping the snake oil salesman and reading Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. These are innovators and leaders that are worth the listen.

To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO