Unfolding Innovation Lab Intent: a multi-case process perspective

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Design and management of innovation labs

As organizational forms, innovation labs are more than just the creativity room of a firm or the gathering point of communities. They are a managerial response to the organizational challenges that hinder innovation. Therefore, to think that implementing this type of initiative is simply a matter of setting up an appealing space with technological resources is a perception that is far from reality. This chapter explores in greater depth the theoretical foundations of innovation labs and their organizational effects. On this basis, the multifaceted functions offered by these laboratories are explored, evidencing their contingent and idiosyncratic character. This is followed by an examination of the implications of designing and managing an innovation lab. The chapter ends with a comparison of conceptual frameworks in an effort to identify a common ground of key terms, dimensions and criteria to be taken into account throughout this research.

The organizational innovation lab

Over the last few decades, organizations of all kinds have been exposed to much more accelerated changes in the introduction of new technologies, changes in markets, new ways of governing, teaching and appreciating the world in which we live. In this context, innovation has become a key strategy for any type of organization seeking to adapt and keep on generating either economic, environmental or social value (Boly et al., 2016; OECD, 2018). Such universality and complexity of the challenges we experience as a society have driven innovation understanding to be much more open and based on knowledge and value generation (OECD, 2018). Also, innovation is associated as much to the implemented result as to the process and activities that lead to it (Blok, 2021; Gregoire, 2016). Based on the most recent version of the Oslo Manual (OECD, 2018), innovation can be defined as:
“An innovation is a new or improved product or process (or combination thereof) that differs significantly from the unit’s previous products or processes and that has been made available to potential users (product) or brought into use by the unit (process). This definition uses the generic term “unit” to describe the actor responsible for innovations. It refers to any institutional unit in any sector, including households and their individual members.”
As broad as this definition is, innovation is inherently subjective and context dependent. Yet, its application can be guided, managed and facilitated. According to the Innovation management system guidance – ISO56002, once an organization identifies and defines its intent to innovate, a process that brings such intent to life should be established (ISO, 2019). Although innovation processes are flexible, adaptable and can take multiple forms, an organization seeking to implement its own innovation process should generally identify opportunities, create and validate concepts, develop and implement solutions (see Figure 3-1). However, successful implementation of these processes requires strong facilitation (Magadley & Birdi, 2009). On top of that, organizations do not always have the capabilities required to innovate, thus motivating them to seek resources elsewhere or to develop new competences (Boly et al., 2016; Moya Sedan, 2021). To this scenario is what the creation of an innovation lab is usually aimed at, as a managerial response to overcome the organizational challenges that limit innovation (M. Lewis & Moultrie, 2005).

Functional roles of innovation labs

Although fostering organizational learning may be part of the expected benefits, the mission of an innovation lab is operationally tied to the support of innovation processes, or in other words in mobilizing technological and methodological resources to identify, design, prototype, implement and/or validate new solutions to specific problems. To do this, innovation labs rely on 3 main aspects (see Figure 3-3). The first is the workplace to foster creative behaviors. Creating conditions to foster creative thinking and behaviors has been a longstanding research topic in the literature (Ekvall, 1997; Woodman et al., 1993). One might even say that the roots of innovation labs stem in good part from this interest (Kristensen, 2004). Therefore, one of the main aspects that make up an innovation lab is the deployment of a physical or virtual space whose architectural design, rooms, configuration and imagery are specifically conceived for the lab’s purpose (Klooker et al., 2019; Oksanen & Ståhle, 2013).
The second aspect concerns the technological resources that favor prototyping and testing. Innovation labs are recognized for providing access to new technologies and specialized knowledge that support prototyping, allowing users to materialize their ideas and test them, thereby moving forward in their implementation (Mortara & Parisot, 2018; Moultrie, Nilsson, et al., 2007). Third, there are the people, both the lab team, who are in charge of orchestrating what happens in the lab, and the users, who are the actual beneficiaries of the lab operation. This is perhaps the most distinctive feature that academics and practitioners point out when they refer to the innovation lab concept, the interplay among all the related actors that make use of the lab (Fecher et al., 2020; Magadley & Birdi, 2009). Combined, these are the main pillars of an innovation lab which are subsequently committed to the innovation process (Gey et al., 2013; Memon & Meyer, 2017).

Designing and managing innovation labs

The design of innovation labs has been discussed in the scientific literature from various perspectives, including the spatial design of a creative space, the characteristics that activate or inhibit the appropriation of users or the managerial factors that should be taken into account to achieve a positive organizational climate for innovation. This section explores those issues in order to highlight what elements should be addressed when designing and managing an innovation lab. Creative rooms have been a common strategy to help organizations foster creativity and innovation at the workplace (Oksanen & Ståhle, 2013). In this sense, it has been recognized how the design of these spaces should consider dynamism, playfulness and debate as fundamental features toward a creative climate (Ekvall, 1997). This is because the spatial confines where creativity and innovation take place have a direct effect on people by inducing emotions that can alter their well-being, which may ultimately facilitate or reduce creative processes (Kristensen, 2004). This resonates with Olson, Cooper, & Slater (1998) who noted that “environmental design carries the potential of having a direct impact on worker morale and productivity”. Also, for Oksanen & Ståhle (2013), spaces conducive to innovation should consider modifiability, smartness, attractiveness, value reflecting and collaboration enabling as key attributes.
But designing an innovation lab extends beyond spatial design. For Lewis & Moultrie (2005), the innovation lab must ensure users find themselves in an environment that reduces hierarchy and encourages participation. Indeed, a successful innovation process is usually driven by the personal experiences of individuals operating within established networks and leveraging personal connections (Dougherty & Hardy, 1996). This allows consideration of how these experiences can be improved and how the workplace may influence them. Design of an innovation lab should consider not only place, time, and technologies that support the innovation process, but also human facilitation (Magadley & Birdi, 2009). This implies managing participants’ expectations, fostering team building spirit, as well as inspiring participants to maintain motivation and pass on the results to their daily work environment (Fecher et al., 2020). Therefore, managers of innovation labs face a challenge that goes beyond just managing them. According to Peschl & Fundneider (2014) innovation needs to be enabled rather than controlled. More concretely, they state that, to manage a space intended to foster innovation, managers must “learn how to provide an ecosystem of living ambiances of cultivation, facilitation, incubation and enabling, rather than a regimen of control and forced change” and to consider both the lab environment and organizational climate as part of the enabling context (Peschl & Fundneider, 2012).

A framework comparison for the design of innovation labs

Table 3-1 summarizes the eight frameworks identified in the literature. Here, on the basis of five comparison criteria, the main features as well as the differences between them are discussed. It is important to note that some frameworks comprise a more detailed level of elements by disaggregating specific components for certain constitutive pillars. However, not all of them reach that level of specificity; therefore, only the main pillars are presented. Regarding the comparison, a set of five criteria to identify the comprehensiveness of the current frameworks was established (Osorio Bustamante et al., 2016; Osorio, Dupont, Camargo, Palominos, et al., 2019). These are:
▪ Strategy vs. outcomes approach: To understand innovation lab performance it is necessary to analyze how and why it was initially conceived, and the way the lab is used; it is therefore of interest to identify a framework that contributes to this regard.
▪ Space & lab’s embodiment focus: As the motivation and research questions rely on the role of the innovation lab as an organizational form, we try to compare whether the space or the infrastructure has been considered as one of the main features of analysis.
▪ Criteria definition: Almost all frameworks have a solid theoretical basis, although not all of them define criteria to evaluate their constitutive pillars. Those with a criteria definition are considered a significant input.
▪ Operationalization & metrics: In addition to the criteria, we look at whether instruments and metrics were developed for each framework.
▪ Case study: Finally, we compare which frameworks have been tested and deployed through single- or multi-case studies.

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Stating or building a strategic intent

When considering strategic intent, one should keep in mind that it is tied to people. The intent is a psychological concept in possession of individuals capable of generating a state of mind associated with an external reality (Searle, 1979). As humans we plan for our futures and such a future-oriented mindset is intentional (Mantere & Sillince, 2007). The same happens at the organizational level when plans are made, and goals are defined. Beyond explaining exactly how they are to be achieved, what is expected is to set an organizational intent with a broad range of interpretation and improvisation in how that intent is realized (Mantere & Sillince, 2007).
The literature can be confusing about who is responsible for or who is the bearer of strategic intent in an organization (see Table 4-1). In a corporate context, strategic intent is in many cases attributed exclusively to the top management team (see for instance Burgelman & Grove, 1996; Lovas & Ghoshal, 2000; Prahalad & Doz, 1987). However, one of the characteristics that Hamel & Prahalad (2005) stress the most is the motivational and flexible dimension that encourages individual and team contributions at all levels of the organization. In the same line, Gratton (1994) insists on the importance that a strategic intent should not be left only as rhetoric in the form of slogans or compelling phrases by the top management team, but that it should be communicated, discussed and operationalized with the other areas of the organization. Similarly, Smith (1994) also argues that no matter how much a leader’s personal vision of an organization exists, it does not really become a strategic intent until the other members are committed and contribute to it.

Innovation lab framework and assessment tool implications

This chapter studied what the actual capabilities of innovation labs are and to which degree of expertise their practices and processes could be determined by proposing a maturity grid-based assessment tool. The main contributions of this work are: (1) an updated framework adapted to address innovation labs’ strategic intent and capabilities involving stakeholders and communities; (2) a strategy-oriented maturity grid; (3) a multilingual gathering instrument; (4) together, the grid and the instrument envision a prototype of a maturity grid-based design and assessment tool. The proposed framework makes it possible to study the processes of creation and use of a space intended to support innovation and to measure the outcomes according to the original strategic intent. Based on an existing and mostly theoretical framework, an updated version was proposed and operationalized. According to the literature review, it is an original contribution to the recent research efforts to understand the behavior and performance of innovation labs. This conceptual basis enabled us to construct an instrument (questionnaire) that allows a particular innovation lab to self-assess its degree of maturity thereby serving as a strategic feedback tool that invites lab managers to reflect on the degree of achievement of their intention. This work evidences the concern to understand the influence of a dedicated organizational form to support the innovation processes and through the application cases it glimpses a guidance tool for those who want to start a new project aimed at creation of an innovation lab.
The main contribution of this work is the basic construction for a maturity grid-based assessment tool for those who want to address and understand the capabilities of an innovation lab. Through this, we aim to build a tool whereby researchers and practitioners can find a comprehensive set of practices and experiences in the way that innovation labs have been implemented to build their own strategy. Furthermore, we hope this research strengthens the collaborative innovation process. Innovation labs are indeed places of knowledge exchange and interaction between communities. In general, it has been seen that the questionnaire (instrument) itself works as a guidance tool to help managers evaluate the outcomes of an innovation lab and potentially carry out the planning of a new innovation lab project in a more comprehensive way. As part of the feedback, some respondents underlined that in the early stages of their projects they had not taken into consideration several criteria or elements that are strategic for the success of innovation labs. The same instrument also serves for self-testing of the labs on the degree of maturity reached, which supports decision-making regarding the direction to follow in a strategic context. In any case, it should not be expected that maturity-based approaches or tools as the one proposed in this study to be reliable for doing benchmarking or suggesting to all innovation labs exhibit “lead performance”. Instead, they are useful to incite discussion and create awareness on organizational performance to define improvement strategies (Moultrie et al., 2006).

Table of contents :

1. Introduction
1.1 Research background
1.2 Research problem and goal
1.3 Methodology
1.3.1 Action research approach
1.3.2 Multimethodology design
1.4 Contributions
1.5 Thesis structure
2. Innovation labs: the concept, their nature, the constellation
2.1 The nature and definitions of the innovation lab phenomenon
2.2 Innovation labs as the facilitators among the intermediaries of innovation
2.3 The various manifestations of the lab phenomenon
2.4 The constellation of innovation labs: a bibliometric outlook
2.4.1 Search strategy and methodology
2.4.2 Results and keyword network visualization
2.4.3 Cluster analysis
2.5 Toward a research agenda on the management of innovation labs
2.6 Conclusion
3. Design and management of innovation labs
3.1 The organizational innovation lab
3.2 Functional roles of innovation labs
3.3 Designing and managing innovation labs
3.4 A framework comparison for the design of innovation labs
3.5 Conclusion
4. Strategic Intent
4.1 The concept of strategic intent
4.2 Stating or building a strategic intent
4.3 Strategic intent, innovation and innovation labs
4.4 Understanding and unfolding strategic intent
4.5 Conclusion
5. Understanding innovation lab intent: toward a performance assessment tool 
5.1 Setting up an exploratory study
5.2 Defining an innovation lab conceptual framework
5.3 Framework operationalization: proposition of a strategy-oriented maturity grid
5.3.1 Strategic Intent
5.3.2 Process of creation
5.3.3 Physical Embodiment
5.3.4 Process of use
5.3.5 Outcomes
5.4 Testing the assessment tool
5.4.1 Design of the instrument and data gathering
5.4.2 General characterization of surveyed labs
5.4.3 Application of the instrument: a cross case analysis
5.5 Innovation lab framework and assessment tool implications
5.6 Conclusion
6. Unfolding Innovation Lab Intent: a multi-case process perspective
6.1 Multi-case study research design
6.1.1 Research method
6.1.2 The cases
6.1.3 Case selection
6.1.4 Data collection and analysis
6.2 Results and main observations
6.2.1 Case IX
6.2.2 Case XVIII
6.2.3 Case VI
6.3 Unfolding the strategic intent of innovation labs
6.3.1 Stage 1: Finding purpose
6.3.2 Stage 2: Switching perspective
6.3.3 Stage 3: Emphasizing context
6.3.4 Stage 4: Building consistency
6.4 Discussion
6.5 Conclusion
7. Exploring team roles and competences for innovation labs
7.1 Innovation lab management teams
7.1.1 Competence and Innovation Labs
7.1.2 Innovation teams and roles
7.2 Toward a Competence-based Role Model for Innovation Lab Teams
7.2.1 Methodological approach
7.2.2 Proposition of a Competence-based Role Model
7.3 Application of the role model through a self-assessment approach
7.3.1 Tool design: a self-assessment approach
7.3.2 Sample and data collection
7.3.3 Instrument internal consistency
7.3.4 Competence self-assessment results
7.4 Findings and discussion
7.4.1 A cross examination of retrospective results
7.4.2 Discussion
7.5 Conclusion
8. Conclusion
8.1 Contributions
8.2 Implications
8.3 Limitations
8.4 Perspectives
Appendix A. Comparison of methods and contributions
Appendix B. Maturity grids for the innovation lab framework
Appendix C. Insights from International Survey
Appendix D. Prospective workshop canvas
Appendix E. Semi-structured interview guideline
Appendix F. Interview characterization
Appendix G. Role model operationalization
Appendix H. Scientific dissemination and publications
Appendix I. Summary in French


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