Lessons from an Innovation Spy

Innovation is now well known as crucial to commercial success and innovation labs everywhere are on the rise. From Ivy League universities, tackling social issues, to well-known corporates such as Google, Phillips, JP Morgan, and some recently announced partnerships such as PayPal and BNP, NCR and CBA.

However, having an Innovation Programme doesn’t guarantee successful innovation, and there are many examples of failure. Here are some tips drawn from working alongside Innovation labs, as to how to avoid these pitfalls of failure.

  1. To quote Steve Jobs, the king of Innovation, “Real Artists ship”. There is a risk you create a hipster money pit where there are lots of ideas, post it notes and fancy tools, but nothing happens. Creative processes are a means to an end, and Innovation is not the end goal. Real artists ship means real innovation results in a sustainable business model. Innovation labs should stimulate creativity, but within processes and milestones for delivery.
  2. Critical to success is alignment of innovation goals and priorities to the core Business Strategy, rather than a separate innovation strategy. This encourages strategic focus, buy in and collaboration from the rest of the organisation, and avoids misalignment and groupthink.
  3. Fostering a trial and error environment. Design thinking, Lean Startup and other popular methodologies similarly recommend building prototypes, testing with the customer, and learning from that experience. Counterproductive to the corporate world, this should enable the ability to, and the acceptance of, failure. But the key is to fail fast, learn from it, and move on.
  4. The right people – both inside and outside the organisation, with a focus on diversity. Internal secondments helps with developing knowledge and expertise. As discussed in an HBR article successful innovation happens when the team is motivated with constant energy, creative friction, flexible structure, and purposeful discovery.
  5. Collaboration for success – There is truth in the saying ‘there’s an app for that’ – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration to leverage emerging technologies which are validated, reactive to the market and bring a fresh perspective. By fostering mutually beneficial partnerships you can combine ideas, experience and resources, to arrive quickly at a solution.