Innovation vs. location

New Thinking 25 August 2018

What effect does environment have on your team’s ability to innovate? We have most likely all seen images of the Googleplex or, closer to home, amazing offices like Xero and NZME. Are locations like these a prerequisite before you too can experience the benefits of innovation inside your organisation? The answer is no… and yes.

Innovation can prosper in the strangest of places. Many great businesses have and continue to start out in humble basement-esque environments. The physical work environment should not be an impediment for starting on an innovation journey. Walls, windows and the backs of doors can be quickly repurposed for visual working and to catalyse collaboration. Soon though, these approaches reach their own limitations.

A key objective should be to make your innovation team and their work visible inside your business. It will help keep the innovation team on track, with the physical space acting as an indicator of the team’s progress. Another benefit of bespoke innovation labs is they allow for different business functions to co-locate in one area, dissolving team silos and fuelling deeper collaboration.

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This approach also improves communication between innovation activity and the rest of the business. Labs allow innovation work to be open-source and accessible to anyone inside your business. Ring-fencing and hiding innovation can have all manner of unanticipated consequences upon cultural morale. It might seem paradoxical at first. We are conditioned to think of innovation as hidden secrets and skunkworks projects in the depths of research labs. The time may come for secrecy, however for the most part, you are better to keep things open and in plain sight of your employees.

Delivering innovative solutions

At Assurity, we prefer to bring teams into our purpose-designed innovation labs where they are not constrained by existing organisational constraints and beliefs. At the beginning of our alpha-experiment and beta-build phases, we go to great lengths to free team members of existing organisational beliefs. The labs provide an opportunity to collaboratively design new operating principles that are better suited to routinely deliver innovative solutions.

If the prospect of an innovation lab seems some way from your current operating paradigm, you can still make progress. Your goal in this instance should be to consistently free team members from their normal routine daily tasks and any beliefs that do not serve creative progress.

Innovation becomes diluted if teams can transition back into the cadence of regular business-as-usual activities. The work begins to lack impetus and can miss the very opportunity your innovation work is designed to exploit.