Corporate Innovation Labs: the place to pursue disruptive ideas?

Studie »Corporate Innovation Labs«


Corporate Innovation Labs study probes exemplary innovation labs’ success factors

What exactly is a corporate innovation lab? Why are so many companies so keen to set up a think-tank? And what sets this type of lab apart from conventional R&D units? Fraunhofer IAO has answered these and other key questions in a recently released explorative study entitled “Corporate Innovation Labs.” This report looks at case studies and offers recommendations on setting up innovation labs.

Many organizations are carving out spaces for their staff to experiment. Idea labs, maker-spaces and digital labs are springing up everywhere in a bid to find new ways to spark innovation. Fraunhofer IAO conducted a study to investigate if and how these innovation labs are proving their merits. Its authors sought to find the recipe for success in designing and setting up these think-tanks. Insights gleaned from many interviews with people from companies small and large in diverse industries afforded researchers the opportunity to draft clear design recommendations.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

This famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein rather tidily sums up today’s very real need for innovation. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is clearly a dead end. Companies are compelled to develop unprecedented, disruptive, and perhaps even absurd, ideas and test them for their future viability. Walking down the beaten path is no longer the way to explore new avenues. This requires striking out in a new direction with newly structured teams and workflows. “The co-working studies we had conducted earlier in 2014 and 2017 enabled us to spot many useful approaches to the team formats that are needed to this end. So it comes as no surprise that we were able to identify many similarities to co-working spaces in the interviews with managers of successful corporate innovation labs,” says Klaus-Peter Stiefel, the study’s author.

Objectives and recommendations: Why do companies need innovation labs?

Outline of a zone model for a Corporate Innovation Lab
Source: Study Corporate Innovation Labs

Outline of a zone model for a Corporate Innovation Lab

The first question on the agenda addressed the nature of these labs: What goals are they actually pursuing; what tasks do they hope to accomplish? Do they focus exclusively on digitalization or disruptive innovations that transform entire markets? The study revealed that most labs have a much broader outlook: “Think outside the box,” “develop a wide variety of business ideas to decision-making maturity,” “accelerate the innovation process” – these are just a few of the objectives mentioned by the interviewees. These labs often aim to change the corporate culture; hence, culture change is another key objective. The study suggests that innovation labs need to meet greater expectations to be successful – they should be unconventional, inspire enthusiasm and be a co-working community of sorts. The authors developed recommendations for specific design variables, offering advice on the organization, teams, leadership, methods and physical layout of such labs. Companies have very little experience with innovation labs, so these recommendations provide valuable support for their efforts to design creative spaces.

Designing new workspaces in the joint Office 21® research project«

Conducted as part of the Office 21® initiative, this study may be ordered from the Fraunhofer Bookshop at a cover price of 34 euros. This research project aims to pinpoint current developments, predict future trends at an early turn and come up with successful ways of designing and installing new workspaces in companies. But how is this to be achieved and how is the risk of failure to be avoided? The authors set out to systematically develop practicable solutions to answer these very questions.

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