Innovation Labs are proliferating and as Forbes has noted, that’s not all good news. Some are doing great things, adding to the operational and financial strength of their organizations. Others are floundering, having survived the initial enthusiasm of newness but struggling to remain sustainable and relevant.
As an advisor on creative projects and innovation initiatives at leading corporations over the past 20 years, I’ve seen projects soar, others crash and burn, and many launch with a flash only to quickly sputter into obscurity. Based on these experiences, I recognize that there is one question that, when answered, can make all the difference between success and failure to an Innovation Lab. Why is it so powerful? Because it brings an essential ingredient: Clarity. It distills the project’s purpose and aligns the many stakeholders.
There’s one key question, and it is not: “Should we do this?” Rather, it is essential to ask:
“What do we want this Innovation Lab to do for us?”
This question, while seemingly straightforward and simple at first, can be like a loose thread on your favorite sweater — pull on it and all of a sudden you’re in territory you didn’t know was so fraught. Yet unlike the often disastrous final result of tugging on that sweater sleeve, posing this one question can bring big benefits. It’s a question that often prompts conversations you never anticipated and unravels tangled thinking — which ultimately makes your project stronger.
I’ve often been in rooms where everyone assumed a united focus, only to discover radically different goals and objectives once this question was raised. Lively discussions follow about target constituencies, key activities, resources, metrics, and ongoing viability — which cascade into other discussions and decisions.
Most successful innovation labs are clear on this from the start. So if you’re getting ready to launch, ask this question. And if your lab is floundering or your focus is a bit muddled, return to this question. Clarity is powerful.
In the weeks ahead I’ll be writing more about crafting innovative ideas into business reality. Thanks for joining me on the journey.