Design for Innovation
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INGREDIENT 7: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

11 January 2018 - Todd Boyer

Real estate agents are quick to remind us that when looking for a home, the decision is all about location, location, location. There are obvious reasons for this: there is nothing like an ocean view, a great school district, or a place within a great neighborhood.

Determining the right location for you and your family is a difficult decision. There are so many factors that lead you to the best location. There are also consequences to that decision that may not be anticipated. What if the perfect home and location comes with noisy neighbors and a basement prone to flooding? It isn't until after your decision has been made that some of these unanticipated consequences of the perfect location come to light.

The same challenge comes true when planning for your organization’s innovation center.  Location, location, location is one of the most important decisions in the planning process.  Determining to build an on-site or off-site center is critical to a center’s success.  What type of community connection are you looking to achieve?  A center's location ties directly to branding and story, yet the location is always decided upon prior to getting an architect involved.  

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Keeping your innovation center "in-house" (within your current facility) or "out of house" (a satellite location) has a serious impact of the center's success. Below are some challenges and opportunities to consider:

 

In-House innovation Center

   Pros:

  • The location is convenient. Being downstairs or down the hall makes creating an innovation center appear easier.
  • The real estate cost is low. You already own the square footage; you only need to take advantage of it. A new attitude and some small renovations spurs the creation of an innovation center.
  • Show off space: a shiny, new innovation center in house creates a show off space for all visitors to your organization.  With the new buzz of the company’s new venture all kinds of people (media, competitors, clients, potential employees, etc.) will want to come check out what you are up to.  There is no better way to show how forward thinking your organization is than with a brand new space that promotes new ideas.
  • Statement of Commitment: there is no better way to show your employees, clients, and competitors your level of commitment toward innovation than to spend hard earned capital towards a new space that challenges the status quo.

   Cons:

  • Isolated by security: one of the first mistakes that many organizations make is to put their new and shiny toy behind locked glass walls.  Security of new innovative ideas becomes paramount and suddenly is only accessible to a few.  Not everyone in the organization is allowed to be innovative - only those with security access.
  • Separation from tradition: being an on-site innovation center is easy to create but faces challenges of identity. Being downstairs or down the hall makes it difficult to separate from the mothership and break away from the view point that lead to the need for innovation in the first place.
  • "Cool kids only": a flexible, hip space with the latest technology that is locked away can create a "cool kid mentality." A space that is designed to bring people together for collaboration suddenly makes only a certain few feel comfortable.  Certain teams that are assigned to the space become territorial.
  • Animosity amongst the ranks: a new show piece filled with the cool kids may create animosity among different groups in your organization. Innovation spaces tend to focus on technology development which segregates those not involved. Your sales team, accounting group, or older staff may sense a lack of support. All the buzz and capital is focused towards a single group and space can send the wrong message to others not directly involved. 

 

Off-Site innovation Center

    Pros: 

  • Creates a destination.
  • Organized Independence: with an off-site location, the independence from the home office allows freedom and the chance to change culture. With this independence, planning must be in place on the reporting structure to keep this new venture organized and focused on its mission. 
  • Sense of importance: an off-site location provides the opportunity for groups to be invited and explore challenges outside of their daily routine. Being invited to participate reinforces an employee’s sense of importance to the organization.
  • Work is valued: if your innovation space is expected to push the organization forward, choosing certain work to explore shows that work, and the employee doing that work, respect and value. All employees hope their work is valued by their organization and nothing says that more than being invited to share it at the new innovation center, the space that is relied upon for some of the most important work being created.
  • Extending the brand: an off-site location extends your organizations brand to the public in a new way. An alternative interface is an opportunity to become more community based and attract diverse talent from what your original culture provides.

 Cons: 

  • Less monitoring: We all know that saying, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.” In other words, who will hold employees accountable for the work? Communication with the home office must be seamless.
  • Real Estate Costs: an off-site location is an additional cost from the real estate side. Now you are a tenant in someone else's building with less control on what happens around you. There are additional risks with additional leases and vendors to handle all that comes with an off-site location.
  • Advanced Integration Planning: How do you create independence yet maintain culture and connectivity? Planning out the first six months of a transition is critical. How will folks travel back and forth? Are there liaisons? Will off-site employees attend all office events at the home office? There are all kinds of logistics that must be supported and planned. Don't wait until it happens to figure it out.
  • Transition Period: the first six months are critical because people are figuring how this new space works and how to work within it. Give them time and plan for limited results in the first six months. Things go wrong; they always do. An innovation center, if built for the right reasons, is a long-term investment so have some patience and provide support.

These pros and cons should be considered, but ultimately, the decision you make about the location of your center should be the one that is the most effective for your organization. Put some weight on this conversation and use this list as a guide. An innovation center is a place for forward thinking, so the choice to make one is always a good one. 

     
 
 
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TODD BOYER
Firm Principal  |  tboyer@wsastudio.com