Dead is the innovation lab, long live the innovation lobby

Samuel Huber
Goodpatch Global
Published in
3 min readApr 3, 2020

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How to release your ideas from quarantine into a space full of serendipity

Illustration by Lissy Bonness

You can’t have missed it. In the past few years, innovation labs have popped up in every major city on an almost weekly basis. While some of these labs really create value, others are merely flagship projects with a diverse program of innovation theatre on display. Located in an otherwise empty room at the edge of the corporate campus or in a buzzing city far from HQ, innovation labs are more tolerated than they are respected. Out of sight, the uncertain future doesn’t hurt as much.

Why do we even need innovation labs?

All organizations start out as highly dynamic startups that are continuously searching for innovative offerings, new ways of working, and underserved target audiences. Once success hits, however, they go into retention mode and fight everything that endangers their dominant model of value creation. They prioritize efficiency and minimize possible disturbances. In that sense, creativity and uncertainty become significant threats to business as usual. The company turns into the often-cited metaphor of a big tanker: Stable, full of wealth, but also slow and part of an industry whose end is near.

Fortunately, today’s companies know about the importance of exploration and are trying to make it part of their daily practice again. They’re creating focused innovation labs full of great minds that run different initiatives like a speedboat: fast, ambitious, and agile. From the tanker’s bridge, however, they are rarely seen and at risk of being run over.

Stability demands change

If an organization wants to continue to be stable and successful, it needs to keep changing simultaneously. Innovation labs are trying to solve this paradox, but unfortunately many of them struggle. Either they are too close to the organization and suffocate, or they try to differentiate themselves so much that their purpose boils down to a ”we are not like them” reflex that hinders collaboration. Sealed off from what is happening in real life, they have built their own little environment where their ideas flourish.

An innovation lab should be more like a lobby full of diverse travelers and their stories than a quarantine institution for people with contagious ideas.

However, we all know what works under lab conditions usually looks very different once out in the wild. So why do we stick to labs as the preferred blueprint for thinking about innovation in the corporate context? We don’t need to seal off different mindsets to protect them but create places of friction, conversation, and serendipity. After all, a primary driver of creativity is diversity. An innovation lab should be more like a lobby full of diverse travelers and their stories than a quarantine institution for people with contagious ideas.

Turn your labs into lobbies!

Let’s create lobbies, not laboratories. Let’s embrace the clashes, let friction create the sparks, and use the well-oiled corporate machine to lend its stamina. Innovation lobbies are the embedded catalyst along a firm’s innovation journey.

Let’s embrace the clashes, let friction create the sparks, and use the well-oiled corporate machine to lend its stamina.

Situated at the entrance of an organization, the innovation lobby connects the firm with its outside environment. Employees pass it when starting with their day and hopefully take something inspiring with them. At the same time, when they leave at the end of the day, they bring back little thoughts from the untouched potential within the corporate context. As long as the interface of lobby, organization and environment is thoughtfully designed, this exchange works just as well onsite as it does remotely.

Community forms in the lobby and not the sterility of a laboratory. Yes, there will be arguments, politics, and even fear, but exposure is the only way to make change happen. Ideas are easy; creating the right community to bring them to the ground and execute them is the hard part. By reframing your lab as a lobby you take the first step towards a more systemic understanding of innovation that is greatly needed to solve today’s great challenges.

At Goodpatch, we love empowering organisations to build innovation lobbies and know what it takes to make them successful. Let’s learn and evolve together. Have a look at our New Work or Venture Design offering on www.goodpatch.com to learn more.

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Samuel Huber
Goodpatch Global

Founder of the For Planet Strategy Lab. Combining Strategy and Design through Prototyping → www.forplanetstrategylab.com