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From Idea to Impact: How to Build and Run An Innovation Lab

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

The modern business world is constantly evolving, and it's important for companies to stay ahead of the curve. Building innovation labs has long been hailed as a way to cultivate a dedicated space for research and development, creating an environment for experimentation and creativity, and investing in workforce development. This guide will provide an overview of how to start and manage an innovation lab, giving your company the tools to jumpstart its future.

Picture of a pile of colorful legos
Building an innovation lab, like building anything, happens piece by piece.

Why we need more innovation labs

Innovation labs are increasingly vital in today's rapidly changing world. They are dedicated to solving complex problems that demand creative thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration. These labs promote a culture of innovation, fostering creativity and experimentation. They play a critical role in research and development, serving as centers for ideation, prototyping, and refinement of new technologies, products, and services across various industries. For businesses, innovation labs are essential for staying competitive by helping them adapt to evolving markets, emerging technologies, and changing consumer needs.


Beyond corporate interests, innovation labs also catalyze economic growth by promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, and investments in research and development, ultimately driving economic progress. These labs encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration, enabling experts from different fields to work together, leading to innovative breakthroughs. They are instrumental in helping organizations and industries adapt to technological change as technology evolves at an ever-increasing pace. Some innovation labs focus on sustainability and eco-friendly solutions, contributing to the fight against environmental challenges.


Moreover, they can have an educational mission, providing opportunities for individuals to learn and develop new skills and thus provide a platform for workforce development. By investing in a space solely dedicated to innovation, you are signaling to your employees or community that innovation is a top priority. This boosts morale, attracts top talent, and fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth.


Innovation labs address global and social challenges, such as pandemics, climate change, and poverty, by developing innovative solutions and coordinating international efforts to overcome these obstacles. In essence, innovation labs serve as engines of progress, enabling organizations and societies to adapt to change, foster creativity, solve complex problems, and drive economic and social growth.



Setting the goals and objectives of your innovation lab

Setting clear goals and objectives is a critical step in starting and managing your innovation lab. These goals will serve as guiding principles, helping you focus your efforts and measure the success of your lab. When setting your goals and objectives, it's important to align them with your overall business strategy and vision.


To begin, identify the specific problem or challenge that your innovation lab will address. Is it to develop new products or services? Improve existing processes? Solve a particular customer pain point? Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can start brainstorming goals and objectives that will drive innovation and create value for your organization.


Your goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, instead of setting a broad goal like "increase innovation," you can set a SMART goal like "develop three new product prototypes within the next six months." This goal is specific, measurable (you can track the number of prototypes developed), achievable within a given timeframe, relevant to your innovation lab's purpose, and time-bound.


In addition to specific goals, consider setting broader objectives that align with your company's strategic priorities. These objectives can focus on areas such as market expansion, customer experience improvement, or operational efficiency. By tying your innovation lab's goals and objectives to the broader goals of your organization, you ensure that your efforts contribute to overall business success.




Identifying and selecting your innovation team

One of the most crucial steps in building an innovation lab is identifying and selecting the right team. After all, it's the people behind the lab who will be driving the innovation and bringing your ideas to life. But how do you go about finding these talented individuals?


Start by clearly defining the roles and skills that you need on your innovation team. Look for individuals who are not only creative and innovative but also have diverse backgrounds and perspectives. This diversity will help to generate a wider range of ideas and promote out-of-the-box thinking.


Consider conducting internal talent assessments to identify potential candidates within your organization. Look for employees who have shown a knack for innovation or have a track record of problem-solving. These individuals may already possess the skills and knowledge needed for your innovation lab.


Don't limit yourself to just internal candidates, though. Look externally as well. Consider reaching out to universities, attending industry conferences, or even utilizing social media platforms to connect with potential team members. Look for individuals who have a passion for innovation and a proven ability to bring ideas to fruition.


When selecting your team, it's important to prioritize collaboration and teamwork. Look for individuals who not only have the necessary skills but also have the ability to work well with others and contribute to a positive team dynamic. The success of your innovation lab will heavily depend on the ability of your team to collaborate and share ideas effectively.


Creating a culture of innovation within the organization

Creating a culture of innovation within the organization is vital for the success of your innovation lab. It's not enough to have a dedicated space and a talented team; you also need to foster an environment that encourages and supports innovation throughout the entire organization.


To create a culture of innovation, start by communicating the importance of innovation to all employees. Share the vision and goals of the innovation lab and how it aligns with the overall business strategy. This helps employees understand the value of innovation and their role in driving it.


Provide resources and support for innovation to help make it stick. This can include offering training and development programs, providing access to innovation tools and technologies, and allocating dedicated time and resources for employees to work on their innovative projects. And don't forget to recognize and celebrate innovation within the organization. Highlight success stories, recognize and reward innovative ideas and contributions, and create a culture of learning from failure and iteration.


By creating a culture of innovation, you not only support the work of your innovation lab but also inspire and empower all employees to think creatively and contribute to the company's overall growth and success.


Funding and resources allocation for the innovation lab

Securing funding and allocating resources are essential steps in starting and managing an innovation lab. Without adequate financial support and resources, your lab's potential for success may be limited. So how do you go about funding your innovation lab and ensuring that you have the necessary resources?


One approach is to establish a dedicated budget specifically for your innovation lab. This budget should cover not only the initial setup costs but also ongoing expenses such as salaries, equipment, technology, and training. It's important to allocate sufficient funds to ensure that your lab has the resources it needs to thrive.


To secure funding, you can explore various options such as seeking investment from stakeholders, applying for grants, or partnering with external organizations. Clearly communicate the potential return on investment (ROI) and the value that your innovation lab will bring to the organization to attract financial support.


In addition to financial resources, it's crucial to allocate the right talent and expertise to your innovation lab. Consider reallocating existing employees or hiring new talent who have the necessary skills and experience in innovation and research. Like we mentioned earlier, by investing in a strong and capable team, you're setting your innovation lab up for success.


Creating a process for idea generation and evaluation

Innovation doesn't happen by chance; it requires a structured and purposeful approach. To foster idea generation and evaluation within your innovation lab, it's important to establish a clear process that guides employees through the creative journey.


Start by creating choosing a framework that outlines the stages of idea generation and evaluation. This framework should include brainstorming sessions, idea capturing methods, and criteria for evaluating and prioritizing ideas. Encourage employees to think outside the box, challenge assumptions, and explore new possibilities.


To ensure that no valuable ideas slip through the cracks, establish a centralized system for idea submission and tracking. This can be as simple as an online form or a dedicated innovation management software. The key is to make it easy for employees to share their ideas and for the innovation team to review and respond to them promptly.


Regularly review and evaluate the ideas that come in. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures to assess each idea's potential impact, feasibility, and alignment with your innovation lab's goals. Prioritize the most promising ideas and allocate resources accordingly.


It's also important to involve a diverse group of stakeholders in the idea evaluation process. This can include employees from different departments, customers, and external partners. By gathering diverse perspectives, you increase the chances of identifying game-changing ideas and mitigating blind spots.


Finally, communicate the outcomes of the idea evaluation process transparently and provide feedback to all participants. This helps to maintain enthusiasm and engagement, even for ideas that didn't make it to implementation. Foster a culture of learning and improvement by encouraging iteration and refinement of ideas.


Building a network of partners and stakeholders

Building a network of partners and stakeholders is a crucial step in the success of your innovation lab. By collaborating with external organizations, you can tap into new expertise, resources, and perspectives that can greatly enhance your lab's capabilities.


Start by identifying potential partners and stakeholders who align with your innovation lab's goals and objectives. Look for organizations that have complementary strengths and expertise, as well as a shared vision for innovation. Reach out to industry associations, universities, startups, and other companies that operate in your field.


When approaching potential partners, clearly articulate the value proposition and benefits of collaboration. Explain how partnering with your innovation lab can create a win-win situation, where both parties can leverage each other's strengths and resources to drive innovation and growth.


Collaboration can take many forms, such as joint research and development projects, co-creation of new products or services, sharing of best practices and knowledge, or even joint marketing initiatives. Be open to exploring different types of partnerships and finding the right fit for your organization.


In addition to external partners, don't forget to engage internal stakeholders as well. Involve employees from different departments and levels of the organization to ensure a holistic approach to innovation. By creating a network of internal champions and advocates, you can amplify the impact of your innovation lab and foster a culture of collaboration and shared success.


Overcoming implementation barriers and managing risks

Implementing an innovation lab can come with its fair share of challenges and risks. However, with proper planning and proactive management, these barriers can be overcome. One common implementation barrier is resistance to change. When introducing an innovation lab, employees may be hesitant to adopt new processes or ways of working. To overcome this, it's important to clearly communicate the benefits of the lab and involve employees in the decision-making process. Provide training and support to help them navigate the changes and address any concerns they may have.


Another challenge is ensuring the alignment of the innovation lab with the rest of the organization. It's important to integrate the lab's activities and outputs into existing processes and structures. This can be achieved through regular communication and collaboration between the lab and other departments. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations to avoid duplication of efforts or conflicts.


Managing risks is also crucial in the implementation of an innovation lab. Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. This can include implementing robust data security measures, creating contingency plans, and regularly monitoring and evaluating the lab's performance.


By proactively addressing implementation barriers and managing risks, you can ensure a smooth and successful integration of your innovation lab into your organization's operations. This will maximize the impact of the lab and drive innovation and growth for your company.


Measuring the success of the innovation lab

As a leader, it's crucial to measure the success of your innovation lab to ensure that it's delivering tangible results and driving meaningful change within your organization. But how do you measure something as intangible as innovation?


One way to measure the success of your innovation lab is by tracking the number and impact of new ideas generated. Keep a record of the number of ideas submitted, the number of ideas implemented, and the impact these ideas have had on your business. This can include metrics such as increased revenue, cost savings, improved customer satisfaction, or new market opportunities.


Another important measure is the level of employee engagement and satisfaction within the lab. Conduct surveys or feedback sessions to gather insights from your innovation team about their experience and the impact they feel they are making. A high level of engagement and satisfaction indicates that your lab is fostering a culture of innovation and providing a supportive environment for your team to thrive.


You can also measure the success of your lab by looking at the outcomes of specific projects or initiatives. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for each project and regularly evaluate the progress and results. This will help you track the return on investment and assess the overall impact of your lab's activities.


In addition to these internal measures, seek external validation of your lab's success. Look for recognition and awards within your industry or seek feedback from customers and partners. This external validation not only provides credibility but also demonstrates the value your lab is bringing to the wider ecosystem.


Communicating the impact and value of the innovation lab to the rest of the organization.

One of the most crucial aspects of running an innovation lab is effectively communicating its impact and value to the rest of the organization. While your innovation lab may be generating groundbreaking ideas and driving positive change, it's important to ensure that this is recognized and understood by everyone within the company.


To effectively communicate the impact and value of your innovation lab, start by sharing success stories and case studies that highlight the tangible results and outcomes achieved through the lab's efforts. Use real-world examples to showcase how the lab has contributed to increased revenue, cost savings, improved customer satisfaction, or other key metrics that align with your organization's goals.


In addition to success stories, use data and analytics to support your claims. Provide clear and concise reports that demonstrate the specific impact of the lab's initiatives, whether it be increased efficiency, reduced time-to-market, or improved product quality. This data-driven approach helps to solidify the lab's value and provides stakeholders with concrete evidence of its positive impact.


Furthermore, consider hosting regular innovation showcases or presentations to update the rest of the organization on the lab's progress and achievements. This can be an opportunity to highlight specific projects, recognize the contributions of the innovation team, and inspire others to get involved in the innovation process.


Finally, don't underestimate the power of storytelling. Craft a compelling narrative around your innovation lab, emphasizing its purpose, goals, and the value it brings to the organization. Use engaging visuals, videos, and other multimedia tools to capture the attention and interest of your audience.

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The world needs more innovation labs to power the future! Happy building!


If you'd like support with standing up an innovation lab in your organization or community, drop us a line!


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