The problem with isolated innovation departments

Investing in a completely isolated innovation department is a terrible way to spend your innovation budget.

It seems so logical to have a completely separated innovation department. With rules and goals different from those that apply in the rest of the organisation, it seems like the perfect remedy to the inability of a large and inert organisation to innovate. Big organisations are primarily focussed on gradual improvement and stability. It makes sense to have an innovation department that is not bound by the same understandable, yet limiting, chains of efficiency. However, it becomes problematic when the innovation department is so far removed from the rest of the organisation that it no longer listens to employees from other departments and no longer knows what’s going on.

Let me illustrate this with a real life example:
A while ago I spoke to an innovation manager of a large corporation. He told me “We are creative. The other departments just need to implement what we invent.” This remark obviously triggered a bunch of questions in my head. I asked him “Do you include the stake holders (the end users and employees from other departments) in your innovation projects?” He thought this was a silly question. “No of course not. They’re not creative. We come up with innovative ideas and they get to execute them.

I think this example perfectly illustrates the risk that a separate innovation department can pose to the actual innovation in an organisation. Of course in reality the employees of other departments will NOT implement the ideas. In fact they won’t even agree to a proper pilot to test one of these a new ‘innovative ideas’. They will probably give these playthings of the innovation department the lowest priority.

In the end, the ironic result of a completely separate innovation department will be the stifling of innovation.

It’s foolish to expect employees to embrace new products and services when they had nothing to do with the creation of these new concepts. They were not included, could not share their problems, insights or wishes and are probably not overly exited to start working with the new product. They will certainly not be the ambassadors you need them to be.

When coming up with ideas for new products, services or processes you should always include the people who will actually use it or work on it. They know what’s going on. They know what they need.

Ask your colleagues what bothers them in their work. What are the challenges they identified? What are their desires? What would make their work (and their lives) easier? Include them in the ideation sessions. You want ambassadors; you want the people who will eventually use it to be enthusiastic about it. They are decisive in whether the idea will be a success or a failure.

If you don’t include the people who will have to make it work, you can’t expect them to adopt the new product, service or process. No matter how ingenious your invention is, without their support it will die a quiet death. An innovation department with its own goals and rules is great, but make sure the other departments get to contribute to the innovation process too. You need them.

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