Why Innovation Labs Fail, and How to Ensure Yours Doesn’t

What do Walmart, Facebook, and Lockheed Martin have in common? They all recently unveiled lavish new innovation labs. These kinds of labs go by different names — accelerators, business incubators, research hubs — and my research suggests their numbers are growing. Over half of financial services firms have started their own creative spaces, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a health care company or retailer without at least one innovation lab, whether it’s a conference room with sticky notes or a 20,000-square-foot incubator space, like the one launched by Starbucks in November of last year.

That’s all great news, generally speaking. Innovation labs are a safe place for organizations to run experiments and iterate on projects, and they’re an important investment for firms that have rigid approaches or that work in highly regulated industries. But do they actually add value and generate growth? According to a report from Capgemini, the vast majority of innovation labs — up to 90%, one expert says — fail to deliver on their promise.

From doing extensive research for my book Disrupt-It-Yourself and advisory work with large corporations in various sectors, I’ve found that there are three reasons many labs come up short. Here’s what companies should watch out for.

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