WHU | Logo

10 clear signals of innovation theater

Dries Faems: April 30, 2020

In the past decade, corporates have heavily invested in a wide variety of initiatives to spur innovation or even disruption within the company. Examples of such innovation ventures are incubators, accelerators, innovation hubs, innovation labs and innovation outposts. However, we increasingly see that these initiatives turn into innovation theater, meaning that these ventures are not able to produce tangible results in terms of products, services or business models (Blank, 2019)1. Here are some clear warning signs to swiftly identify innovation theater at your company:

  1. The press release, announcing the official start of the new innovation venture, has been the last time that public relations has reported on the innovation venture.
  2. The most significant investment within the innovation venture has been a very expensive coffee machine.
  3. The monthly newsletter of the innovation venture tends to end up in the spam folder of most employees.
  4. The brainstorm whiteboard of the innovation venture, which is full of colorful post its, has not been touched for the past three months.
  5. The most important result of the hackaton, which was organized over the weekend by the innovation venture, was the launch of a digital platform to facilitate ordering sandwiches from the local caterer.
  6. Most employees, who received an invitation to participate in a lean sprint session from the innovation venture, thought this was a new offering by the company fitness studio.
  7. The average age of the innovation venture staff is lower than 25
  8. The innovation venture consists of one director (i.e. a purchasing manager who missed an important promotion), two part-time employees, and four interns.
  9. Employees describe the activities at the innovation venture in terms of “something with Blockchain and AI for disruption.”
  10. The innovation venture has turned into a shelter for local start-ups, who do not have money for their own office.

Do you have experience yourself with innovation theater? I am looking for anonymous testimonials of people, who experienced innovation theater during their career. If you want to share your experiences, please do not hesitate to contact me (dries.faems(at)whu.edu).


1 https://hbr.org/2019/10/why-companies-do-innovation-theater-instead-of-actual-innovation

WHU | Logo