Harder Than It Looks: The Realities of Innovation and the Path to Tangible Results

Corporate innovation often starts with high excitement and big dreams as teams embark on a mission to uncover the next big thing. Yet, the reality behind the scenes is much more complex and demanding. It’s not just about generating creative ideas—it’s crucial to transform these ideas into tangible business value. This is especially true in structured environments like that of a large international airline’s innovation lab.

The Allure of Innovation Labs

Leading an innovation lab comes with its perks: generous budgets, advanced facilities, and the liberty to explore cutting-edge technologies. Initially, this environment feels like a creative playground where possibilities are endless. Consider the experience of a director at an innovation lab, where her team experimented with projects ranging from AI-driven customer service to blockchain-based logistics. While these projects sparked considerable excitement, the real challenge was just beginning.

The Reality Check

The transition from exploration to execution becomes stark when new leadership steps in, demanding that these innovations move beyond concept and demonstrate real, measurable business impact. This shift from ideation to value creation is where many innovation labs face their toughest challenges. The new leadership’s demand to see lab projects positively affecting the company’s bottom line is a common scenario, marking a decisive point where the feasibility of creative ideas is truly tested.

Turning Innovation into Value

To navigate this complex landscape and achieve successful outcomes, a structured approach is essential:

1. Start with the Value Proposition Canvas

Kick off the innovation process by applying the Value Proposition Canvas. This tool helps identify customers’ needs and ensures that the innovations are directly aligned with what is truly valued. It is crucial to clearly define the problems you are solving and for whom, setting the stage for solutions that customers are eager to adopt.

2. Conduct a Market Fit Analysis

Following the insights gained from the Value Proposition Canvas, conduct a thorough market fit analysis. This step evaluates how the innovation meets actual market demands and customer expectations. It involves gathering and analyzing feedback from potential users, examining market trends, and understanding the competitive landscape. The goal is to refine the innovation to ensure it is not only needed but will also stand out in the marketplace.

3. Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

With a clear understanding of the market fit, establish Key Performance Indicators that will track the success of the innovation. These should measure critical aspects such as user adoption, financial impact, and operational efficiency. KPIs provide a quantifiable measure of success and are indispensable for evaluating how well the innovation is performing against its objectives.

4. Prototype and Pivot Based on KPIs

Develop initial prototypes and begin pilot testing to see how the innovation stands up against the established KPIs. Use this phase to collect data and insights on real-world usage and application. Be prepared to pivot—altering and refining the innovation based on this feedback—to ensure the final product not only works technically but is also optimized for market success.


The path from innovative idea to value-generating business solution is fraught with obstacles, but also rich with opportunity. By focusing on alignment with customer needs, market demands, and clear performance metrics, companies can bridge the gap between novelty and utility. For organizations, achieving innovation success means embracing a rigorous process of testing, feedback, and adaptation, ensuring that innovation efforts lead to verifiable business benefits. This approach not only satisfies the immediate demands of new leadership but also sets the stage for sustained competitive advantage and growth.

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