August 2, 2017

Why Innovation Labs Fail – The Innovation Engine Podcast, with Jonathan Rivers

Jonathan Rivers joins us on this episode of The Innovation Engine to explain why innovation labs usually fail. We’ll look at why innovation labs often have the opposite effect from what’s intended, why Jonathan shut down 3Pillar’s Advanced Technology Group (or 3Pillar Labs) within a few months of being hired, the vast difference between tweaking and transforming, and what you can do if your organization already has one.

Jonathan Rivers is the CTO of 3Pillar. He leads 3Pillar’s product and engineering organizations, which includes more than 600 software engineers, product consultants, product managers, quality assurance, and user experience professionals. Jonathan also works with 3Pillar team members in each of our locations worldwide to foster product development best practices that lead to business value for our clients.


Interested in hearing more? Tune in to the full episode below.


Why innovation labs often don’t, in fact, innovate:

  • They’ve become innovation theaters, and they’ve lost a purity of purpose or an intentionality.
  • Innovation is used in so many different ways to mean so many different things, and it’s almost used to treat different symptoms rather than than actually solving the problems. “It’s like window candy to technology.”
  • Labs are small compared to a company’s overall developer staff. When it comes to actually innovating or changing an organization, you invest in as many people as you can. “Six hundred people have more ideas than six do.”

Why Jonathan shut down 3Pillar’s innovation lab:

  • Innovation labs are fun for technologists…but they’re not necessarily productive for a business. As an executive with fiduciary duty, he had to shut it down.
  • We had a flawed model that was not aligned with our business strategy – it wasn’t aligned with our strategic objectives, and we weren’t really clear about the impact that we were expecting it to have.

Things to consider if you do have an innovation lab in your organization:

  • Recommit that your lab vision is connected to your business strategy, either your current strategy or a strategic initiative that you have. Why does it exist, what do you expect out of it, and when do you expect to see results?
  • Avoid vanity metrics (e.g. five products in a year). In order for it to be successful, you have to know what you’re expecting to get and when you’re supposed to get it.
  • More labs are shuttered for a lack of absorption back into the business than any other single reason. When your lab creates something incredible, how are you going to get it back into the business? And you don’t get to figure that out once you have the product – You need to figure that out now.


About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.