Innovation begins in the lab
Corporate culture can either promote innovation or be a barrier to new ideas. Companies are often set in their ways, bound by established practices and traditional work patterns, and wary of experimenting. Even when they are open to change, they may lack the pathways and know-how to channel and cultivate new ideas.
According to Dave Power, the way to encourage creativity is to “think and act like a startup”, which means being free to examine all possibilities without any rigid constraints. It requires a different mindset – one that corporates can develop by immersing themselves in a startup environment and drawing inspiration from the skills and techniques of entrepreneurs.
As Director of Innovation at Dogpatch Labs, Power is part of a thriving startup community in Dublin’s digital docklands. As well as helping new ventures, Dogpatch Labs can teach leading brands how to acquire the energy, drive and focus that characterises startups and gives them their creative fire. In other words, how to inculcate a startup mentality and adopt the techniques that can lead to viable – and perhaps even disruptive – innovations.
Otherwise known as hubs, incubators or accelerators, innovation labs are now very popular worldwide and many organisations are using them to develop and test ideas before taking them into the real world.
“Labs help to identify market trends and focus on customer and business needs,” says Power. “They can fast-track new products and are particularly useful given today’s emphasis on digital transformation and customer experience. Businesses must keep up with digital challengers and learn how to evolve at speed. Innovation labs can teach established players to be agile and creative like startups and thus remain competitive.”
From lab to real world
Power underlines the importance of having practical objectives and thoroughly stress-testing every idea to prove whether or not it is valid and has a real-world future, which is the essence of the laboratory approach. It is an iterative process that ensures only viable ideas are taken forward, and that they can solve genuine needs and are not solutions in search of problems.
For example, working with innovation labs could help to tease out the potential of a smartphone app for a business. Having identified the need and set the objectives, the next step would be to define the relevant technology and establish the precise services that would benefit customers. The result: a viable product with an assured market.
“We begin with ideation and strategy,” says Power. “We look at the overall marketplace, industry trends, the startup landscape, and disruptive challenges and opportunities. Labs enable you to collaborate with leading entrepreneurs, startups and industry specialists. You can put your innovation strategy on the right path and ensure there is expert input to cover all the angles. Then you can explore possible solutions, using incubators and accelerators, and home in on investible propositions.”
HIPE: innovation in action
The Hannover Re Intrapreneurship Programme (HIPE) is a good example of this step-by-step methodology. Dogpatch Labs guided the innovation journey at each stage of the programme, drawing out the potential and value of ideas with the help of industry insiders and other experts.
“HIPE provided a platform for all employees to submit ideas,” says Power. “The aim was to realise latent entrepreneurial talent across the organisation and channel the passion and creativity of the global workforce. Ideas spanned topics such as automation, risk assessment, accumulation control, and product development, and 100 ideas were selected for the first stage.”
Rigorous assessment followed, and the number of ideas was progressively whittled down during 14 weeks of intensive exercises, in-depth analysis, and presentation testing.
“The selection process is exacting,” says Power, “which is why pitches are conducted in what we’ve nicknamed ‘the shark tank’. It may seem as if there’s a touch of Dragon’s Den about proceedings, but we ground everything in reality rather than theatre, and we’re very clear about providing concrete guidance and maintaining a practical focus. Ideas that don’t hold water won’t go the distance.”
Power says that the involvement of mentors and industry experts proved invaluable, and that the vetting and leadership process, developed through workshops and presentations, helped to refine the ideas and create business models that stack up commercially and financially. From a shortlist of five ideas, three were selected for funding and given the green light for implementation.
True innovation comes when you can distil the value from ideas that are not yet fully formed or lack the time and resources to be developed. Innovation labs provide a framework for creativity, together with the concentrated activity and expertise to explore the art of the possible. Moreover, in the best traditions of discovery and progress, this is art backed by science.