Measuring innovation can be a challenge

One of the more important topics when it comes to running an innovation lab is deciding how, exactly, to measure innovation. How specific do you want to get with the metrics you’re choosing, and how can you find the right mix that will be the most effective?

During a recent workshop in Minneapolis with corporate innovators, we went over one case study where at the beginning, the measurements were too loose. This led to some push back from executives, however, which made them course-correct a little too hard. Their plan was then to measure everything, which led to a lot of measurement and not a lot of innovation.

If you think of measuring innovation as a pendulum, they swung from one extreme to the other. What you need to do when measuring innovation is to find the sweet spot in the center, where you can measure innovation taking place while still actually innovating.

One of the most interesting ideas proposed was moving to a “green light/yellow light/red light”system. Basically, there was an insight the innovators wanted to work on that week, and for each of their projects they gave a rating of either green light, yellow light, and red light.

  • Green Light meant that there was observable learning that occurred that week.
  • Yellow Light meant that it might be questionable to an outside observer whether or not learning occurred that week.
  • Red Light meant that there was no learning that week.

This gave them a useful but still simple way of measuring whether or not their innovation labs were making progress, while still allowing them to innovate. Trying to measure metrics in an innovation lab requires finding that sweet spot of seeing and measuring definite progress without trying to measure everything under the sun. Measure too little and you’re not sure you’re actually making any real progress. Measure too much and you run the risk of stifling innovation for the sake of measurement. Finding the right balance is key to innovation success.