Innovation Hubs: The Secret to Innovation for Business

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It can be difficult to come up with new ideas on command, so what is the secret to innovation when it comes to business?

By Angela Ferguson

If you ask people where they get their best ideas from, more often than not they’ll tell you it’s when they are on holidays, on a long plane flight, walking the dog or even in the shower. Inspiration hits naturally and unexpectedly, typically when we have few other distractions around us and when our mind and body is relaxed and focused.  It can be difficult to come up with new ideas on command, so what is the secret to innovation when it comes to business? How do businesses incorporate radical and creative new ideas, not only in their offer to their clients, but in their own day to day activities, products and services?  For many large organizations the focus is on accountability, corporate responsibility and risk aversion; with innovation often being relegated to the too hard basket.

Yet innovation is a must if companies want to avoid stagnation and even extinction.  We live in a fast-paced busy world.  The rate of change we are experiencing is phenomenal and continues to increase.  For many businesses this rate of change is a challenge – traditional industries are being disrupted by smaller, leaner businesses with low overheads (such as Uber).  Air BNB is a great example of disruption to the hotel industry.  They are one of the world’s largest, most successful companies, yet they don’t actually own any property.  So how do businesses, particularly the more traditional professions that are traditionally risk averse, stay ahead of the curve and innovate to create new products, new services, and ensure the longevity of their business?

For innovation to occur in any organisation, three key principles must be addressed. And just as a tripod rests on three legs equally in order to be balanced, these three principles must be addressed equally so that innovation may occur.

1.      Mindset – attitude is important when it comes to innovation and generation of new ideas.  People need to be able to problem solve, think positively, have permission to take risks and be open minded.  The culture of the organisation should support people making mistakes and sharing their ideas without being ridiculed or humiliated for speaking up.

2.      Virtual connection – in a world dominated by technology, we have an almost limitless choice of how to connect in order to enhance collaboration.  Digital collaboration breaks down barriers such as distance and time, and can often mean that a stakeholder group can be wider, more diverse with further reach.  However it is important to be selective with technology and to avoid digital overwhelm.  As an example, Pinterest may be applicable to some situations or user groups, whilst others may prefer Trello boards or similar.  Other virtual tools such as Skype can be universally appropriate.

3.      Place - a physical space dedicated to innovation may seem controlled or contrived, yet its value cannot be underestimated.  An innovation hub is one way that many traditional, established businesses can provide a ‘safe’ place for their people to experiment, make mistakes and explore new ideas. Many organisations are also increasingly wanting an space to experiment with new technologies, such as AR, VR and 3D printing.  Innovation is something that is widespread across the demographic of an organisation, rather than relegated to an R+D department.   For this reason it is important to have a neutral ‘place’ that everyone across an organisation can access, whether they are in accounts, sales, marketing or more obviously creative parts of the business.  Groundbreaking ideas often come from a result of several different insights and perspectives and it can be incredibly powerful to pull a diverse group of people into one environment that fosters a spirit of collaboration and innovation.

A perfect manifestation of these 3 principles is the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University in California. Commonly knowns as D School (D stands for design thinking) the faculty was founded in 2005 and is globally recognised as a leading teaching institute for design innovation.  Students from across the university voluntarily attend courses at DSchool in order to explore, experiment and to bring new ideas to life.  Dschool is not restricted to architecture or design students however, it is for the entire Stanford cohort.   You could be studying business, science, education, humanities, medicine, engineering – anything from across the seven schools at the university.  Students participate in Dschool activities by choice in order to boost their expertise, amplify an idea or to be immersed in a topic that interests them for an intense burst of time.  The premise behind Dschool is that everyone has the ability to be inventive and creative, and that inspired facilitation of this is the key to innovation.

What is perhaps most profound about Dschool is that the physical place has been very carefully designed to create community and facilitate a diverse, multi-faceted experience for its occupants.  Whilst the finishes and materials are raw and edgy, they are not temporary.  The environment is sturdy, it is physically and ergonomically sound, with an inbuilt flexibility and fluidity that means the users can customise the space to suit their needs. There are clear protocols for use of all the spaces, displayed throughout in easily understood graphics. There is an amazing buzz and energy throughout, and corridors, stairs and ‘leftover’ spaces are used to enhance the bump factor, promoting chance interaction and exchanges.  Just being physically present at Dschool is inspiring; and the evidence of innovation is present in the work (at various stages of progress) displayed throughout the entire building.

These deliberate strategies related to innovation and creativity are the sorts of ideas that, at Futurespace we have implemented for many of our clients including REA Group, PwC, Qantas, KMPG and Microsoft.  As some of the most successful businesses globally our clients have realised that whilst their current business is well established, there is still a need for incubation of new ideas and strategies.  In order to meet some of the challenges of doing business in the 21st century, a physical environment, or a ‘place’ for innovation, whether that be a hub, showcase, co-lab, sandpit or whatever terminology you want to use, is essential.  Innovation spaces not only need to inspire, they need to be carefully designed to consider diversity, flexibility, user engagement, ergonomics, light, amenity and quality.  Innovation is the holy grail of business in this early part of the 21st century; the smartest organisations know this and are creating unique, carefully curated, uplifting and motivating environments where the whole of an organisation can come together to co-create whilst maintaining the business’s overall integrity.

amanda starc