What if you could lose weight by putting your friend on a diet? You could eat whatever you want and reap the benefits of your friend’s healthy habits by proxy. Scale this model to the masses and you’d be alarmingly rich. 

Alas, it doesn’t work that way. You might learn something based on the foods that helped or hindered weight loss for your dieting friend. Still, you’d need to apply those findings to your own consumption to realize your own weight loss.

If this scenario sounds crazy to you (and it should), think twice about the efficacy of corporate innovation centers. They silo innovation “over there,” in separate buildings with separate teams, yet expect results company-wide. Not unlike a reluctant-to-diet person imposing the actual dieting on someone else. Sure, you’ll learn something from these innovation centers, but your company won’t reach its full innovation potential. 

What should you do instead? Read on to learn how to infuse your existing teams with the qualities and ability to actually be innovative within your company’s current structure.  

Innovation Labs: Past, Present, and Passé

Perform a quick Google search of companies with innovation centers. You’ll see lists of corporate bigwigs touting their futuristic glass buildings where magic ideating happens. As mentioned, these are separate, innovation-only teams that exist solely to conjure up novel ideas. They operate apart from the rest of the company. 

Corporate innovation centers — also known as incubators, hubs, labs, or accelerators — aren’t a new concept. In fact, IBM Research started as an innovation lab way back in 1945 (see also: a list of innovation centers). 

Back then, people called it R&D. Like today, it was where outlandish ideas were hatched and incubated into (fingers crossed) viable products. R&D produced groundbreaking theories that led to great products we still use. 

While modern corporate innovation centers do sometimes generate interesting results, like R&D did, these centers are too often window dressing. Companies can appear to keep up with cool-kid startups without actually embracing innovation

What’s worse, when innovation happens away from everything else, it invites an “us vs. them” mentality. Then, anyone who isn’t on the innovation team feels excused from innovating at all. 

Put simply, you leave valuable ideas and solutions on the table by limiting innovation to certain locations and people. 

Innovation Needs an Upgrade but Remains Indispensable 

We’ve come a long way since 1945, to say the least. Think of the technology invented since then! So why are corporate innovation centers essentially the same as IBM’s lab was over 75 years ago?

It’s because companies are afraid to bring innovation in-house, too close. Innovation means change, and change is understandably scary. This is especially true for big, established companies. Moreover, these legacy businesses have systems in place that have worked for decades. Why fix something that isn’t broken? 

To be blunt, if you don’t innovate, you’ll be left behind. 

Not only is innovation required to keep pace with the natural evolution of business, but consumers demand it. If you’re not thinking about what the future holds, what your customers will want next, you’ll be forced to scramble when change inevitably happens.

Innovating, thinking ahead, allows you to be proactive instead of reactive. And that’s invaluable in fast-moving, competitive markets with ever-evolving technology.

How to Propagate an Innovation Mindset in Practice 

Hopefully you’re convinced of the need for innovation beyond sandboxed corporate innovation centers. But how do you incorporate innovation strategies into daily operations?

You make iterative changes to your culture, your way of thinking. You don’t need a whole innovation team in the hip part of town. You also don’t need to take on more risk than you’re ready for. You just need to give your teams permission to push the envelope, to think critically from new angles. In time, this change in thinking will yield an innovation mindset within your company. 

There are actionable ways to foster this innovation mindset right now. Here are two to consider: 

Adopt a Socratic Culture 

Though widespread, consensus culture seriously impedes innovative thinking. To cultivate an innovation mindset, adopt the less popular Socratic culture instead. 

Consensus culture is problematic because it’s entirely too reductive, too limiting. Instead of choosing CTA color based on consumer insights or designers’ research, for instance, you choose the color people can agree on. It relies on, well, consensus. You simply can’t expect people to innovate when they’re restricted to ideas everyone agrees on. 

Conversely, Socratic culture is additive. It’s a culture that encourages you to leverage your teams’ collective skills and separate ideas rather than worry about unanimity.

Thinking Socratically means asking questions to facilitate a true multi-faceted dialogue. What am I missing? What would you add? To be more specific: What does a developer know that a marketer doesn’t? And so on. 

When you’re asking these open-ended questions, you’re encouraging people to respond, to think from new perspectives. This creates space for fresh thought and ultimately leads to an innovation mindset. 

Leverage User Perspectives 

Another way to get your teams thinking from new perspectives is to involve your customers. The best companies include their customers in the product design process by doing in-depth research, inviting prospects into customer advisory councils, and involving customers in planning and strategy sessions.

Having several touchpoints with customers affords you the opportunity to see your product from their view. And this view can reveal possibilities that wouldn’t have come to light at your own insular team meetings. Customers are truly an untapped source of innovative product ideas.

We Can Help

In a way, being innovative is the opposite of what shareholders and executives want. It’s daunting to stray from the status quo. But you know it’s vital. If you need help getting your team on board with internal innovation, reach out to us. We’ll garner buy-in for the idea of in-house innovation and provide the strategy to do it.