Space for innovation

Over the past decade one of the fastest growing design elements has been the growth of ‘innovation space’, either within the four walls of an organisation, within the community as co-working space or within institutions such as Universities. These ‘excellence labs’ have moved from style to substance as governments, organisations and businesses look to create space that fosters innovation. (https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/cs_20170404_innovation_spaces_pdf.pdf)

There is however a risk when considering the creation of such spaces within your organisation. Simply creating an ‘innovation lab’ on its own will likely not achieve anything.

Creative space is a place where people can play, experiment, try, learn and fail, within accepted boundaries. It is not a place where business as usual is conducted. It is often a place where rules are broken and the status quo is challenged. Creative space can appear as a threat to traditional management.

Creating an innovation lab is more than physical space. It is a mindset. There must be implicit acceptance that there could be a way to do things better or differently. People need to be given permission to go there and play on company time. While there has to be a process for moving from experimentation to implementation, it is important those engaged in innovative exercises are not held back by day to day rules and boundaries. It is critical those responsible for discovery are credited and acknowledged, otherwise noone will engage in the process.

While creative spaces are often open space, they are not simply an extension of the open space environment. The advantage of open space within an innovation context is that it facilitates the sharing of ideas. This sharing is critical to generating innovation. Creative space is also a team space. While an individual may start something, for it to move forward, that individual will need to recruit others to help with its development and implementation.

Jacyl Shaw, speaking @Pause2019 recently suggested that intraprenuers are needed to drive impact at scale. Intraprenuers need access to internal resources, they are people ab le to lead change, that bring a diversity of experiences across multiple sector, they are stubborn, persistent and resilient. Importantly these are people that use the language that works for decision makers. They find ways to reduce the risk to management in making a decision. Most importantly they are people able to build a team of supporters and influencers.

This suggests that even when you create space for innovation to take place, it is equally as important to channel people with the right capabilities and characteristics into this space – then give them space to be different.

Since 2002 John Coxon has guided and advised nonprofit management teams and small business operators. His building block process comprises assessment and audit tools to gather data, that informs your decision making and helps you to prioritise actions.

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