How Organisations use Innovation Workshops
Among the leading points are these:
1. Organisations are aiming to integrate innovation workshops into
their whole innovation effort.
2. They are using innovation workshops at higher levels, for example in formulating policies, strategy etc.
3. They are being used to identify opportunities for innovations,
often in co-creation; and not only with customers, but also with
4. They are increasingly being used with outside organisations,
such as suppliers and open innovation sources.
5. Sandpits, so far the exclusive approach of Research Councils, open up the possibility for other organisations to use this approach for identifying new development opportunities.
6. Many organisations are looking to match their innovation workshops (style, approach etc) more closely to purpose.
7. Remotely networked innovation workshops are being
investigated and in some cases used by organisations.
8 Online Forums are being used increasingly for the collection of
knowledge, information and views, often as preliminaries to innovation workshops.
9. Games and other computer-based activities are being used
increasingly in innovation workshops.
10. Released from specially designed ‘labs’ (by Facilitate.com)
innovation workshops are increasingly becoming a common tool
in every manager’s tool-kit.
11. Despite all this, exponents of innovation workshops have to
work hard to help potential users of their services to appreciate
how they may be able to help them meet their day-to-day
2. Idea generating sessions: for problems needing solutions
DSTL (formerly part of DERA) runs ‘Ideas Workshops’. These are 2-hour sessions – on given technological issues that their customers face, mainly with about a dozen junior and middle-level staff who have volunteered to participate in these sessions, but carefully balanced by department and expertise. Those ideas that are taken forward then need support from senior staff. Bombardier use sessions like these for seeking fresh ideas for difficult and unresolved problems. Participants are shepherded through a 2-3 day process which is designed, with the help of other resources, ‘guides’ etc to generate brand new ideas. All of these seem to generate promising ideas,
and a majority have been implemented. BT use some of their ‘Hothouses’ in a similar way – which they called ‘trouble to resolve’. BT’s Hothouses are usually 2 or 3 day events, involving some thirty to a hundred people – selected for their technical contributions, divided into 3 or more teams – working both in competition and collaboratively. Every so often the teams are invited to make brief pitches of their ideas thus far, with a final full-blown pitch, from which the winner is selected.
Seedcamps is a similar but week-long process, set up by a venture capital group. The outcome of the process is a small investment by the venture capital company, plus the opportunity to pitch for additional funding to a number of other such companies, together with mentoring and access to a wide range of experts for the ensuing six months.
DSTL has recently piloted an event whose aim in combination with online forums is to work with new entrants to the organisation to initiate ideas and form possible teams for delivering their solutions, to pitch developed concepts to senior staff for funding for further development, and for mentoring.
Bombardier run what they call Innovation Dens, a concept picked up in Silicon Valley. Ideas are sought for improvements; and once a quarter, about half-a-dozen internal business angels come together to give a comprehensive hearing to a small number of people who are pitching for permission, for a sponsor and for funding to make their idea happen; and they will get an immediate thumbs up or thumbs down.
Syngenta in the US runs similar workshops – for scientists who have ideas for new products, to help them to develop their ideas into marketable propositions, (but not to provide them with funds or other help.)
Among the applications of BT’s Hothouses is what they term ‘concept to market’ – everything involved in getting a new product or service to market.
4. Development Workshops: for ideas needing development
One of the applications of BT’s Hothouses is described as ‘Concept to market’ – about developing a business concept – by scaling it up, identifying the necessary technical and/or manufacturing developments and facilities it will call for, identifying and validating its potential customers, understanding its funding needs, and clarifying its requirements in terms of management. The BBC for some time ran Creativity Labs – week-long development workshops whose objective was to find ideas that could be developed into new programmes. People with ideas were brought together with experienced programme producers, with audience researchers, with programmers, managers and commissioning agents in a collaborative exercise whose aim was to turn the idea into as marketable a proposition as possible. DSTL run workshops on specific issues (about products, processes, strategy etc) as and when they are called for.
5. Developing new technologies BT runs external customer Hothouses, and while it does not find it as easy as it would like to get its customers to participate, it aims to be doing more with them. DSTL is trialling the idea of running what it calls Tiger Teams – groups of selected staff coupled with (a majority of) industrial partners, to provide a multi-disciplinary, multi-organisational team – to work in a year on year basis, to generate, evaluate, trial and develop, technologies, processes and procedures to deliver to the front line. Bombardier runs ‘technology scouting’ groups; and ‘crowd-sourcing’ events with its suppliers, in which its staff spend 1 to 2 hours per day with them over a week. IBM UK Laboratories have for several years had a department dedicated to emerging technologies, which worked on a small number of selected projects which epitomised future applications of its products and services eg pay-as-you-go car insurance, reading mammograms by computer. At present it is working on a single major project – about integrating all the multiple sources of data and information simultaneously available to and used by US armed forces. This parallels IBM’s focus on ‘The Smart Planet’ where data and information sources are used to control services intelligently. DSTL runs short, sharp workshops whose aim is to address technical questions raised by its customers (which it runs simultaneously on its three sites.) Daimler-Benz is said to have established a substantial network of innovation workshops with its component suppliers.
A number of BT’s Hothouses are about strategies and plans for its own units; and as such are substantially about marshalling commitment among its own staff. BIS’s ‘Innovation Space’ (previously ‘FutureFocus’) houses innovation workshops for government departments (but is open for any or all users – on a commercial basis), many of which are about developing new policies and plans. Its traditional layout, based on the original Royal Mail facility, houses computers linked together, which are used for creative thinking workshops, team building days and customer insight, including idea generating, idea developing, sorting and voting etc. The University of East Anglia’s Norwich iLab does a lot of work with the university’s heads of departments whose aim is to revisit strategies, to develop new plans and to design new courses and new programmes. Several of the Research Councils have for some time used what they call ‘Sandpits’. Essentially these are about developing a comprehensive understanding of the state of knowledge in a particular field, about envisioning projects that would meet emerging needs in which that field is closely involved; about forming teams that might tackle some of these projects; and about taking instant decisions to commission and fund these teams in order to deliver the outcomes and benefits that they seem to offer. Participants are invited to apply for the 30 or so places, and those selected, who may not know one another at all, meet for a week, usually at a hotel, where under the auspices of several facilitators and leaders they grow to know more about one another, about one another’s work, and about the scope of emerging needs; are stimulated by external visits, visiting speakers and collateral activities; and gradually come to identify problems whose solution the group feels would lead to substantive progress; and to form teams that might tackle these problems. Each team so selected receives funding for its work as agreed by the group and its leaders.
SenseWorldwide is a consultancy working with large commercial clients, that sets up and facilitates complete co-creation projects, in which it acts as a bridge between a network of collaborators and its client. Its aim is to help clients to devise innovation strategies, ie to identify innovation opportunities. The company’s underpinning philosophy is that of open innovation, that the best ideas come from outside – through collaborative creation. Its two outstanding features are its worldwide network of collaborators with whom it is able to have interactive consultations on particular projects; and secondly its co-creation workshops – workshops which encompass selected collaborators from the above together with individuals from all of the camps inside the client organisation that have a stake in the innovation(s) being considered.
7. Innovation Training
Bombardier have started to run an innovation training programme, developed with IDEO. It has three elements:
established unit in the organisation
to get them accepted as normal practice (some staff do not see
the benefits and can feel uncomfortable with the processes).
of simply being useful for generating ideas
organisation’s innovation processes
its innovation workshops
and more effective ways (eg in partnership mode) with its main
customer, the MoD, and with its other international partners.
simultaneously in more that one location, enabling several
sections of one department located in different parts of the
country to hold innovation workshops together working remotely.
experiment with similar meetings via the net, and to see whether
and how games and other computer-based interactions may be
useful for the process.
John Whatmore May 2011
The Centre for Leadership in Creativity
020 8748 2553