Are there mixed feelings about the value of product innovation centers?

icIn my line of work in industrial and B-to-B marketing, it’s common to encounter manufacturing companies – particularly larger entities – that are seeking ways to spur greater creativity and innovation in their approach to product design and development.

One manifestation of such a commitment is the building of an “innovation center.”

It may be a single room, a suite of rooms, or even a standalone facility situated within the larger corporate campus.  However they’re configured, these centers are designed to become the focal point of product research, product design and related activities.

Often, product training is also part of the mission of these centers, too.

Product innovation centers seem to be growing in popularity. Speaking personally, in the past 18 months, three of my firm’s marketing clients have opened new centers, often accompanied by a good deal of PR hoopla and so forth.

The question is, how well do these centers actually measure up to the lofty expectations senior company managers have for them?

It’s a fair question. And along those lines, I saw a news piece recently that summarized the results of an online mini-survey of medical device manufacturers, wherein the survey respondents were asked to share their views about the effectiveness of the innovation centers within their companies.

The survey was administered to readers of Qmed (aka Medical Product Manufacturing News] magazine, and the results were a little surprising, I felt.

To begin with, only about one-third of the respondents reported that their firms actually have formal, dedicated product design centers or innovation centers.

Moreover, the commentary from those who do have access to them was, on balance, not positive; for every complimentary comment about innovation centers, where were two negative ones recorded.

We can let the respondents speak for themselves:

  • “Great idea – won’t last. Most large corporations are run by pathological control freaks [who] stifle creativity. This is what made these design centers necessary in the first place.” 
  • “I’m creative at my own desk.” 
  • “Not used. I’m over it.” 
  • “Passing fad. No true innovation has come [out] of it in several years. But it is an interesting place to relax – [a] horrible room for meetings.” 
  • “Passing fad, especially at large companies. We consistently see companies standing up ‘innovation centers’ but not changing the fundamental way they handle product development. You can’t just drop R&D teams into a snazzy new office space and have them innovate.” 
  • “Quirky fad that’s useless without an accompanying company culture of creativity and commitment to innovation – the latter in terms of freedom, resources, incentive, etc.” 
  • “Romper Room.” 
  • “This is yet another wacky, management-mandated passing fad in the tradition of others such as Quality Management, Six Sigma and open office [floor-plans].”

I guess one takeaway from the Qmed research is that unless a company already has an effective or otherwise well-established culture of nurturing and rewarding innovation, simply introducing a dedicated design facility won’t do very much to improve matters.

One thought on “Are there mixed feelings about the value of product innovation centers?

  1. Innovation is no more subject to management theory than sincerity in politics is subject to strategy. It’s an intangible. The moment you analyse and box-up the conditions for creativity, you’ve made a mistake already. The instant you plan sincerity–you’ve already failed to be sincere.

    Studying the rooms and furniture where Steve Jobs came up with his ideas is the same mistake Bertrand Russell made in philosophy with a doctrine called “logical atomism”. You’d think studying the bricks would tell you what the building is like. It doesn’t …

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