Setting up an innovation lab inside a scale-up or corporate.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln

Why launch an innovation lab?

Business is moving faster than ever. The cost of capital is basically zero. Anyone with a laptop, internet connection, and ambition can launch a company that could one day take over yours.

Businesses need to focus on business as usual, while also delivering on ways that can disrupt their current business. Using human-centered design, small teams can deliver big results.

This article talks about how you might start an innovation lab in an existing company or scale-up.

What is an innovation lab? 

An innovation lab is a hub to explore over the horizon briefs that can disrupt and grow your business. It’s a place where cross-functional teams work to incubate, develop, and validate business ideas with customers, quickly.

Start with Principles

Start off defining your principles. Why are you setting up a lab? What are you hoping to achieve? How might you achieve it? What are the guiding thoughts of your efforts? Every company will have different guiding principles. I’ve put together a few you might like to use below.

Setting guiding principles help crystallise your vision.

Assembling the right team

Using the Design Thinking model you can deliver innovative Customer Experiences by assembling subject matter experts across business (viability), technology (feasibility), and people (desirability).

An agile team of experts can bring in other SMEs from your organisation as needed. When using Design Sprints (see below), these SMEs are very valuable.

You might also consider adding an Advisory board to quickly sound ideas and source problems.

Looking for an area to innovate?

Once you’ve got your team assembled, you’ll need something to work on.

Be sure not to focus on your existing products or services. It’s too easy to get pulled into incremental innovation building on what already exists. Your agile innovation team is assembled to take on horizon 2 and 3 projects.

Talking to your customers, analysing industry trends and adjacent industries, talking with frontline staff, looking into the latest venture capital investments. There are many places to find potential problems and areas of focus.

Make sure you include a way for staff to surface focus areas and add their insights. A Slack channel or Confluence work well.

Once you’ve uncovered business problems, it’s time to frame problem statements and decide where to focus. One way to decide on your area of focus is plot them on a simple 2×2 matrix.

Design Sprints for innovating

You might be familiar with the Double Diamond design process. And you might know about Design Sprints popularised at GV.

This process goes beyond the Double Diamond and helps you move quickly by incorporating Design Sprints into the Double Diamond.

You can use this to get from general challenge to a specific solution tested with customers in as little as 5 days. I’ve included some activities to complete at each stage of the process.


What to do and what to avoid

Thousands of Innovation Labs have been setup around the world. I’ve collated some of the learnings from other’s efforts to ensure your innovation lab gets off the ground and runs efficiently.

Continuously improve

Making the investment to build and run an innovation lab will pay dividends to your future business.

Take the leap and run a Design Sprint on a problem that’s keeping you up at night. You’ll have tangible results within a week, and you can build on your success from there.

You need people focused on disrupting your own business – because if you don’t someone else will.

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