We’ve all heard the sirens song of innovation, a loaded term that has as many definitions as there are people to ask. One thing that is certain, regardless of your definition, it is imperative to find ways to ramp up your game for today’s customers and also get ahead of tomorrow’s. Companies that take innovation seriously tend to take a “toolbox” approach to foster an innovation ecosystem; one size does not fit all. Among the tools worth considering is a formal incubator – a dedicated place to foster new ideas outside of the core business environment. The optimal words being, “outside of the core business.” There is nothing more dangerous to a fragile, new idea than having it compete with the daily needs of the current business operation – running the day-to-day and inventing a new tomorrow are most oftentimes at odds with one another.
Enter the technology innovation lab, the place where good – and often bad – ideas go to get their shot at glory. Getting the recipe just right for implementing a lab is an experiment in and of itself and takes some time. But when it works it works!
We got started by clearly answering the questions: Why are we doing this? What is our mindset? How will we shape the approach? This helped us envision what it was that we were setting out to do and frankly challenge ourselves to make sure we weren’t simply doing the same old same old. The answers to those questions formed the basis for the shape of the Lab:
- Outcomes – starting with the end in mind, there were several expected outcomes. Position the company to capitalize on leading ideas to create true differentiation, increase brand visibility in the marketplace, attract a different caliber of talent and ultimately ensure the sustainability of our budding innovation ecosystem.
- Attitude – create distance from corporate “red tape” to create an environment to seed and nurture ideas without the weight of corporate processes and traditional financial hurdles. This meant executive-level commitment to provide sponsorship of ideas as well as ownership of outcomes. We set the tone by establishing two basic principles: no more than six weeks to take an idea to prototype and having failures is an expectation.
- Structure – formalize, fund and dedicate a function that has a clear mandate to explore and innovate new ideas. This required staffing it with people who are curious by nature and confident with challenging the status quo. Hint… this has nothing to do with demographics and everything to do with the right attitude and outlook. An important aspect of the team was partnerships from outside the company. Universities, design firms and coop programs provided fertile ground for seeding these partnerships.
The implementation of the Lab has proven to be a tremendous asset to the company and an integral part of their growing and diverse innovation ecosystem.
- Developed ongoing series of revenue generating mobile solutions
- Built prototype of advisor’s “office of the future”
- Delivered entire digital development environment enabling company’s digital transformation
- Designed and delivered employee productivity tools used for lean management practices
- Co-developed award winning algorithmic underwriting
- Grew qualified pipeline of emerging talent from coops through full-time employees
- Incubation of several patented and patent pending innovations