I recently had a meeting with a leader of a packaged goods company and we discussed her experiences in running a dedicated innovation center.
This stimulated my thinking.
What would a world-class innovation center look like?
In my doctoral research I studied many different advertising agencies and have facilitated and taught in a range of different locations around the world.
The following are my observations and insights about such a center.
1. Innovation centers have both a physical ‘place’ and an emotional ‘space’ that need to work together in a synergistic way.
The physical place consists of more than purple walls and bean bags.
The place should inspire.
It should be fun, playful, have colour and energy.
On a practical level it should be easy to flexible and convert easily to accommodate different size groups.
Most of all it should encourage visitors to switch to a different mindset. One that is away from the purely rational and logical to one of experimentation and possibility.
A center such as this also should create a safe emotional space. One where visitors are encouraged to play, experiment, create left-field ideas and risk failure.
It will become the place that is talked about and will engage and excite visitors and staff members alike.
2. It should be a research & idea development center.
The center should be a place and space where the latest consumer research is available.
It could be a place where consumer focus groups are held for example.
Consumer trend research should be presented, debated and leveraged.
The latest research on innovation and new product concepts also should be readily available.
Many of the key brainstorming, ideation and strategy sessions should be held there.
3. It should be a learning center
The new innovation center should also be a place and space of learning.
Training and workshops on creativity and innovation should be held there.
New tools and apps should be tried, results and ideas recorded and shared with others in the organisation.
Case studies need to be written up and available for staff members to study and discuss.
This is a place where anyone in the organisation can be trained or coached in how to think and act differently.
4. It should be an innovation community building center
New ideas often emerge when people connect with one another in informal ways.
Hence the new center should encourage people to interact and spontaneously bump into one another. The scientists and the marketing people for example can mix and discuss what they are working on in a more relaxed environment.
It could be over a coffee or a drink or workshop or lecture……
It does not matter but i have studied many organisations and often their most creative space is the staff canteen.
The centre should be a place where anyone interested in innovation — both within and outside the organisation is encouraged to visit and connect with other like-minded individuals and teams.
5. It should be a center of experimentation
My vision of a world class innovation center is one where not only are breakthrough ideas generated but tested as well.
It could be a place where prototypes are built or mock-ups or new solutions designed.
It can be a place where customers or users can experience new solutions or products.
It is a place where fast, quick, inexpensive feedback can be obtained.
For leaders of medium to large organisations i am a great fan of Innovation Centers. They are both a practical and symbolic milestone in the development of a more innovative and successful organisation.
Most of all they can become a source of real and enduring competitive advantage.