Innovation Centres

In the previous delivery I dealt with the topic of finding time to innovate and came to the conclusion that the only way you will ever find time to innovate is if you entrench innovation activities as part of your “business as usual” routines.
I am good friends with Robert Tucker, one of the foremost innovation experts in the USA. He has recently brought under my attention that Innovation Centres is now a big trend in corporate America and provided me with a report from Capgemini Consulting, which investigated why and how businesses are investing in Innovation Centres. We can and must innovate on this side of the world as well, and I want to explore this phenomenon of Innovation Centres over the next two articles, looking at what it entails, and if and how it can be applied in our environment.
Innovation Centres
In today’s highly competitive economy, innovation is more critical than ever. Over the last ten years, there are myriad examples of established corporates that have fallen on difficult times. Nokia, Blackberry and Kodak are just a handful of the many companies that have been disrupted, decimated or reduced to a shadow of their former selves, after having once dominated their industries. Now I know that these are examples of global organisations in first world countries, but it stresses two arguments. Firstly, if it can happen to these giant organisations with all the skills and resources at their disposal, why not to your organisation in Namibia? Secondly, it just goes to show that consumer taste is very fickle and your products or services can fall into dislike in a very short span of time. How can companies avoid this fate? The answer is: innovation. However, the challenges of innovation continue to defeat many. This is a significant concern given the intensity of today’s competitive environment. Nowadays tech start-ups are threatening or disrupting many established industries: Markets are becoming increasingly digital and mobile is becoming the preferred channel. Digital customers and employees are changing the game. Their behaviours, expectations and values no longer align with tried and true processes, systems and technologies in place now.
Enter the Innovation Centre. The weaknesses of traditional innovation approaches have led a number of ambitious organisations to explore different avenues and seek new inspiration. These organisations have launched innovation initiatives or full-blown innovation centres with the explicit mandate to accelerate digital innovations. These innovation centres, comprising teams of people and often physical sites, are established with the goal of leveraging the ecosystem of start-ups, venture capitalists, accelerators, vendors, and academic institutions.
The primary objective of a digital innovation centre is to accelerate digital innovation by rethinking the customer experience, improving operational efficiency and testing new business models through the use of digital technologies such as Big Data, the Internet of Things, Social Media, Mobile, Robotics and 3D Printing. Innovation centres also help companies to stay abreast with the latest developments and upcoming technologies in the market.
Innovation centres offer a range of benefits, including: Accelerating the speed of innovation; Providing a fresh source of ideas; Enhancing risk-taking ability; Attracting talent; Driving employee engagement and building a culture of innovation
The report of Capgemini uncovered four broad categories of innovation centres, namely: In-house innovation labs, university residences, community anchors, and innovation outposts. Each of these models differ in their goal and the amount of investment.

Next Time
I have now explained the “why” and “how” of Innovation Centres, and in the next delivery I will argue the case concerning if these “structures” will make sense in the Namibian context. I conclude with a quote by Amy Poehler: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life”.


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