Fidelity Investments is one of the largest privately owned businesses in the U.S., but if you have the innovator’s DNA, what’s most likely to make you green with envy about the company is its sandbox.
Fidelity Labs has a dedicated innovation center, with its own space, goals and staff, all focused on developing the company’s next big pushes in digital business. This is the incubator from which industry-leading apps, cool visualization technologies and more than 100 U.S. patents have been created.
“A dedicated physical innovation center can focus time, attention and resources on generating impactful new ideas,” said Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner Fellow, “and provide a safe place for those ideas to be developed and evaluated apart from the bureaucracy and short-term pressures of mainstream business.” Organizations as diverse as Ford Motor Company, with its Ford Research & Innovation Center, and Westfield Corp., with Westfield Labs, have run with this concept to fuel focused collaboration and creativity.
Ford Research and Innovation Center is strategically located in the Palo Alto, CA tech hub. Courtesy Ford Motor Company.
If you’ve thought about creating an innovation center with its own distinct, physical space, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
Determine high-impact, strategic goals
An innovation center with assigned staff separate from day-to-day operations can be a big investment. Start with a three- to nine-page innovation charter in hand that clarifies sponsorship, and defines roles and success measures.
Most innovation centers focus on high-impact, strategic opportunities, said Ms. Fenn. “Goals such as local and incremental innovation, and driving a culture of innovation more broadly within the rest of the company, are not usually primary goals for an innovation center.”
Goals are typically focused around projects, relationships and the physical space itself. For example, a project goal might be accelerating innovation in mobile to drive revenue and competitive advantage — which is a big focus at both Ford Research & Innovation Center and Westfield Labs. A relationship goal might be creating open innovation relationships with nearby academic institutions or technology partners (Ford, for example, has partnered with home automation company Nest, located nearby in Palo Alto, CA). A physical space goal might be having a demo showcase for branding and marketing.