Why isolating your innovators does not work

I come across a few organisations who have set up their own innovation teams or design thinking teams to create innovation for organisations. While the notion of having a smart team to develop ideas is admirable in reality it falls short on what they are trying to achieve - which is to innovate across an organisation.

   The reason why they fail is that they have separate units, that are isolated from the whole organisation. This means that whilst they might come up with some good ideas, the rest of the organisation (who incidentally are the ones who will have to execute the ideas) are more than likely receive any blame if the ideas don't succeed.

   Herein lies the problem. Innovation is not a separate skill reserved for the special chosen few. The more we prevent everyone from innovating the more other people will resent innovation, and especially resent the people who are allowed to innovate.

   Much of this stilted thinking mentality stems from the old notion of the R&D department. Too many organisations still think of innovation helping to invent the next widget. While it's important to continually create new products, innovation can also be applied to the processes & services we have in our organisations. These are all proven areas that can have just as much commercial return if not more than innovating on product.

   So if we can't have separate innovation teams who's going to spearhead innovation within the organisation.? This is a good question, because leading innovation is different to executing innovation. Innovation leaders should be there to help facilitate innovate either by teaching innovation skills, facilitating insight, ideation & prototyping sessions not to mention encouraging people to innovate. Keeping this type of innovative potential locked away in a separate team fosters resentment and a resistance to accept other peoples ideas.

   So how do we find or create these innovation leaders and facilitators? Innovation like other key business skills is a skill that anyone can learn and apply. All you need is good innovation training, step by step innovation processes that people can follow and some work on creating behaviours that lead to innovative cultures.

In my latest client research (as documented in my latest book Innovation Archetypes), I've identified 4 key phases to innovation that allow sustainable and profitable commercial innovation. Within each one of these phases there are a number of professionals trained with skills & mindsets that excel in innovating. After diagnosing an organisation's innovation strengths and weaknesses it's easy to look at recruiting or training strategies to strengthen any weaknesses in order to allow consistent innovation. Any professional can adopt the key innovative principles of what I call Innovation Archetypes (those that epitomise innovation).

   This might all sound expensive and time consuming. The reality is it doesn't have to be. With access to the right step by step processes anyone can become a world class innovator and any team can start to create world class innovations.


   Rather than look at isolating innovation teams, focus on developing innovative facilitators and acquiring innovation processes so that everyone becomes equipped to innovate. Follow this up with some clear innovation objectives and KPIs such as the number of insights, ideas &  prototypes etcetera that you would like to create each month or each business quarter. 

Finally ensure you develop innovation rituals that encourage innovation. This might vary from innovation 'show and tells' from outside of the industry, celebrating failures, going on field trips and having a 'most improved innovator award'.

   Separate innovation teams are expensive investments that fail to deliver consistent. It's better to invest in training and equipping facilitators throughout the whole organisation with simple tools so that innovation becomes integrated, accessible and a powerhouse engine of profitability for your organisation.

Go and integrate vs. isolate. 


Nils Vesk

Founder of Ideas with Legs | Innovation speaker | consultant | author

nils vesk