Innovation Centers: Showcasing and Collaboration

I work in an environment where I get to see a lot of “Innovation Centers”.  These centers have the purpose of driving innovation in a particular context (company, industry, group etc.).  Innovation centers are a mix of spaces, processes, tools for the purpose of collaborating and showcasing.  The trick is in the mix of the various pieces.  Different organizations have done it differently.

Showcase driven:  These centers tend to be more about showcasing a organization’s innovations to customers and the press.  On the surface this could look very sales-driven.  We should not confuse an innovation center with a briefing center however.  In a briefing center the idea is to showcase products with the purpose of showing a customer stuff to buy.  While this isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t the same as the purpose of an innovation center.  By contrast, “showcasing” in an innovation center is to drive discussion to be used in an agile innovation process.  Part of innovation center work may be showing product or solution but it is with the explicit purpose of feeding the imagination of innovators and to elicit discussion about how these things could be combined in new ways, be improved, or changed to solve new problems.

Collaborating driven:  These centers tend to be reconfigurable open spaces that are for the explicit purpose of innovating.  They are designed to encourage new thoughts, collaboration between people, and they are working environments to execute on those ideas.  At my innovation center we have an area we call the “Innovation Lab” specifically designed as a working area for innovators.

Many of the centers I’ve been involved in tend to focus on one thing or the other in some way, but I think the best centers recognize that a balance is best.  While collaboration is great, without showing what you are doing and getting feedback it is not very effective and can be myopic and self-serving.  On the other hand, merely showcasing things and allowing marketing take over to pass for execution is also not going to achieve good results.  By having a thoughtful mixing of the two activities the best centers can be work spaces that drive new ideas in collaboration with broad communities and can reinvent businesses in the process.

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