3 Reasons Why Innovation Labs or Big Idea Brainstorms Fail (And What You Can Do to Succeed)

Posted by Sara, on June 5, 2017

As noted by Brian Solis (@briansolis) in an article on Forbes, “One survey found that 65% of senior executives face increased pressure to innovate.”

It makes sense. After all, innovation can equal big impact. Done correctly, it can lead to business growth and critical new market share. Done poorly, and it can send a business on a downward spiral.

Given this, exactly how and why an executive responds to the pressure to innovate, and the process he or she pursues to achieve this goal, could not be more important.

Below, we explore three common missteps companies encounter in the quest to innovate, along with a few recommendations your company can use to overcome each challenge and innovate successfully.

1. Innovation Sessions Are Kept in a Silo

Sometimes, companies don’t fully integrate innovation labs or big idea brainstorms throughout the entire organization.

Disjointed initiatives like this, managed by one department or a few individuals, can not only struggle to gain buy-in company-wide, but also struggle to truly represent the voice of the company as a whole.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s ok to have one department or a set group of people leading the charge to innovate, but try looping in the rest of the team as well:

  • Send out a company-wide memo from the CEO, or have him or her host a company-wide townhall, announcing: the new innovation initiative, why it is happening now, what the outcome could mean for the company’s future, and how individual employees can specifically support the project.
  • When you begin planning logistics of the brainstorm for big ideas, be sure to include at least one person from every company department, able to communicate back to the rest of his or her team on progress, and share his or her department’s unique perspective on the problem being solved.

2. Innovation Sessions Aren’t Customized to Fit the Problem

Some companies find an innovation process that works well for one project or piece of the business, and try to replicate it over and over again, regardless of project type, scope or needs.

Each project you are trying to complete, or problem you are trying to solve, will have unique components and different audience needs. And one to another, these insights can vary in big ways. Because of this, there is no cookie-cutter approach for impactful innovation. But the good news is, there is a preferred path forward.

The best innovation sessions don’t use pre-created sessions with pre-created activities that are completely unrelated to the problem. Instead, consider a more tailored approach:

  • Aim to create a custom innovation session filled with activities that will allow the team to regroup and reframe the problem or issue at hand (why are we innovating in the first place?), and create new perspective. For example, imagine you were going to redesign the retail shopping experience. You’ll want to gather images, role play and/or do a visual journey map of the user/shopper’s experience, and create other custom visuals and props. Take your team to the store, figuratively speaking, and get them talking about it. What do they see?
  • Identify and include a deep exploration of the problem you are trying to solve, and try to understand fully why solving for it is so important. Make note and discuss all of the audiences that could be impacted (positively or negatively) by the resolution.
  • Build on as many ideas as possible to unearth previously unforeseen opportunities.

3. A Clear Next Step for Information Gathered Isn’t Identified

There is one common rule for impactful brainstorms:

no ideas are wrong—anything and everything is an option worth considering.

This is because all concepts could lead your team to an end solution the majority can support.

But with so many great ideas, how do you determine which concept fits the opportunity best? 

This is where some companies struggle, concluding the meeting with a lot of great ideas, but very little direction or next steps clearly identified. Before you leave the room, conclude with an action plan:

  • Have someone make note of all ideas shared, as well as any relevant points of discussion.
  • Bring the group back to the problem the company is trying to solve, and the audiences that will be impacted by your final solution. Remind the team what it is that the company is going after and why.
  • Determine what you need to discover the best path forward, including if you need to pull in any additional, even outside, resources. In the end, it will really take someone with a creative mind and big picture view to filter through the ideas and see how some concepts can actually fit into a practical solution. Industrial designers, for example, are trained in design thinking, or the methodology used to solve complex problems. If you know a designer, or another person trained to make sense of the complex, looping his or her expertise and perspective into a project brainstorm early on could prove to be invaluable.

How Could Your Company Innovate?

Are you ready to get started? Clearly identify the opportunity at hand, including an idea of the problem you might want to solve and the key audiences impacted, then remember:

  • Break down the silo and open up communication around the initiative company-wide.
  • Customize innovation sessions or big idea brainstorms to fit the specific individual problem at hand.
  • Plan for what will need to happen next. End your brainstorm or innovation session with a clear path forward. Identify your next steps and follow-up!

What hurdles to innovation does your company face? Share your challenges with us in the comment section below.