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Lab office series, episode 3: Dare to experiment!

June 29, 2017 | Natalie Frei | Methods & Tools |

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

quadraticAfter the last two episodes, we know how to design and furnish a lab office and which doors to knock at for advice. The last episode of this trilogy focuses on how to become operational and how to develop your lab’s full potential. Most importantly, we will explore how to make a lab office a real innovative lab space.

By Natalie Frei, SDC


Innovation, a hard to define term

Having a new shiny office is not innovation. True innovation involves a change in the flow of information or money, according to Kali Taylor, co-founder of the SDG Lab. Technology can be a part of it but it’s just a tool. The word “lab” points it out pretty clearly – it’s research and development, which is usually kept seperate from the main business with much more freedoms to experiment and to fail, so the main business is not directly affected by failures but sucess has a place to land on. Donald Clark, an online learning pinoneer, defines innovation as “something that solves a real-life problem, benefits a whole lot of people and is sustainable in the long run.”

Labs have to figure out a healthy balance between new technology and analogue methods.  Left: writing-friendly wall / Right: electronic whiteboard

Labs have to figure out a healthy balance between new technology and analogue methods.
Left: writing-friendly wall / Right: electronic Whiteboard

Structures flexible, processes informal

With this perspective on innovation, the role of a lab in international development becomes a little clearer. A lab, run by a diverse and creative team, can provide a place for outside-the-box thinking, and asking “what if” questions without silos. To take full advantage of those qualities, the hierarchy should be very flat. In fact, in the Center for Sustainable Development (UNSSC), the team is still fairly unstructured one year after their launch: “Everyone is just doing whatever they want but for some reason it works”, says Patrick van Weerelt (Head of the office), “Since we’re in the unique position to experiment, we see it as our duty to challenge rigid structures and to promote a failure culture. We have no choice but to experiment and that includes failing sometimes. The structures should be just as flexible and the processes just as informal as the architecture of a lab.”

“The structures should be just as flexible and the processes just as informal as the architecture of a lab.” Patrick van Weerelt, UNSSC

 

How to get started

Kali Taylor of the SDG Lab offered some advice for the start phase:

Building trust is the first step to a well-functioning lab.

Before creating the lab, talk to everyone (goals, problems, where they need support, etc.).

A lab can be a tool to support and to provide a catalyst for interaction and innovative thinking (not the main-driver for it).

Be experimental, break down silos.

Promote failure culture.

User focus (design thinking).

Be open to all requests at first to get insight on what people need.

Show a few quick wins after the honey moon period of the lab to get more support from management.

 

We are curious to hear your stories. What is your experience with building a dynamic and lively lab culture?

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