In the world of economic development, we’ve been hearing a lot about “innovation districts” lately. In fact, cities around the world are transforming formerly blighted urban landscapes into lively areas where people come together to solve problems, create opportunities and develop new technologies. These districts concentrate talent in a resourced environment and then allow good things to happen.
Innovation districts bring together talent from a wide array of disciplines with the idea of creating new products and technologies. There is often a mix of individuals from established companies, organizations and startups; college students, entrepreneurs and educators; incubators and accelerators; health care and higher education/research institutions. The associated workspaces are designed to enhance work/life balance with amenities such as restaurants, retail, recreation, open spaces and services.
Creating internal innovation districts
There may not be an innovation district in your region, but creating an internal innovation district can be a great way for your company to grow and attract/retain top employees. If good ideas come from the innovation district environments for communities, why not recreate them on a smaller, custom-sized scale within your organizational community.
There are several innovation district concepts you can adapt for your business:
Assemble an innovation team: Assign top talent from a cross section of disciplines that include all business functions — technology, marketing, manufacturing and legal. Be open to including individuals you haven’t called on for leadership before. Include key outside vendors/partners to fill out your team if certain areas of expertise are needed. They could bring new and creative ideas.
Set a vision: Teams need to know big-picture goals for your organization. Giving them latitude to reach those goals encourages creativity. Don’t micromanage; let your team do the work and allow them to leverage their unique strengths. Demand they deliver solutions and get out of the way.
Create an environment that encourages innovation and collaboration: Innovation districts have open spaces, access to restaurants, retail and parks. Supply your district with their choice of coffee, music, décor, fresh air and occasional changes of venue. Remove walls and open doors. Give teams the option to move throughout the building or beyond.
Trust your team/let them work: Teams that believe they are trusted tend to share more information and solve problems better. Support even the most “out there” ideas and allow time for innovation to occur.
Allow these team members to freely express ideas and make mistakes: When teams make mistakes, provide support and learn from them.
On a smaller scale, innovation districts are about bringing good, talented people together to innovate, create and learn from mistakes. And this method is working. Consider building your own innovation district in your workplace and watch what happens next. Concentrate talent, resource the environment and watch innovation unfold.