In Defense of Innovation Labs

BrandPost By David Guthrie
Oct 08, 2015

Innovation labs are often written off as marketing ploys but can be valuable assets to your organization.

innovation lab

A video caught my attention the other day on the subject of innovation labs. In it, two Fast Company editors have a back-and-forth debate about whether these types of Labs are actual valuable additions to an organization or, as the counterargument goes, carefully constructed marketing ploys designed to give the illusion of forward-thinking without actually producing anything of value.

This is an important topic to me, because I drove the creation of PGi’s own Innovation Lab nearly two years ago. Our Lab has proven itself an invaluable resource to the company and our strategies, creating innovative new products like our smart calendar app iMeet® Agenday and driving development for wearables and other new platforms.

Why create an innovation lab?

So why did we create an innovation lab in the first place? Let me start off by telling you what we did not do. We didn’t create it as a marketing ploy or PR initiative. Its goal wasn’t to elevate our stock price or attract the attention of technology blogs. Have we talked about it via channels like PR and social media? Of course, we gave it the same level of attention we give any corporate announcement.

But in actuality, the Lab operated in more or less secrecy for months internally before we pulled the curtain back. We wanted sharp minds tackling new problems, not press coverage. And their lean setup allowed them to bring a new product to market faster than at any time in our company’s history.

We also didn’t create it as a means of cordoning off innovation into one singular silo, or empowering one small group with the ability to innovate while everyone else is expected to just keep their heads down and do their jobs. We encourage innovation and new ideas across our organization and have dedicated internal resources where any employee can submit feedback and ideas to be seen by product teams and management.

The benefits of our Innovation Lab

In reality, we created our Innovation Lab as a way of pursuing new ideas while being mindful of the fact that we are still a business with existing customers and products to support. In fact, the Innovation Lab has turned out to be the perfect situation for our company and our business model in that it allows us to continue supporting and developing our existing products while branching out beyond our normal purview and into exciting areas we might not have had the freedom to peer into otherwise.

And one of the unexpected benefits that we’ve seen is how all of these teams can support the other; a breakthrough by our Innovation Lab group on one of their products can be shared with a different product group and vice versa. This two-way street of ideas has already proven itself in the short time our Innovation Lab has been active.

So if you’ve ever considered creating or encouraging such a group within your own organization, here’s the advice I’d give you: do it for the right reasons. Do it because you’re committed to actual innovation, not the appearance of it. Do it because you want your company’s actions to speak louder (and produce more results) than its social or PR presence.

And yes, do it because it’s fun, exciting and challenging to try new things.

It’s worked for us. And I know it can work for you.

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