Boundaries in the Innovation Sandbox

Every organization needs to innovate. Accelerating change, increased competition, and shorter product life cycles make it essential to find new and better ways to meet the needs of the marketplace. Innovation is critical and requires a different approach to free up the best ideas. The Innovation Sandbox provides a framework for fostering those new approaches and getting the most from those innovation efforts.

The first element in the Innovation Sandbox is the need to set clear boundaries. Your childhood sandbox had boundaries. When your parents told you to go play in the sandbox, you knew right where to go. The same is true for the Innovation Sandbox. Boundaries create a clear safe zone and provide the structure necessary to keep the traditional control organization at bay.

The Safe Zone is a place where innovators can experiment, play, and learn. It’s a place where the players can feel free to make intelligent mistakes in an effort to find breakthrough ideas. Strong boundaries provide a feeling of control to the traditional organization and time and space to the innovators to explore breakthrough ideas.

The boundary is formed by creating a clear understanding of the time, financial resources, people, and enforcement that will be invested in the innovation effort. Time must be allocated – both in terms of quantity and when it will happen. Financial resources, including cash and other assets, must be clearly budgeted for innovation efforts. The proper people must be available at appropriate times. Finally, everyone must understand the way the boundary will be “patrolled” and enforced. This preparation allows everyone in the organization to feel more comfortable with the experiments and mistakes being made in the name of innovation.

Strong boundaries create an effective safe zone for active innovators, and a sense of control for the traditional gatekeepers of the organization. Proper planning sets up a system that everyone can understand and creates an effective innovation engine.

Next week we’ll discuss setting rules within the Innovation Sandbox.


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May 2010
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