Innovation Labs in search of creativity

I’ve being spending the last few days on the shores of Loch Lomand at the BBC’s Innovation Labs. Although the BBC has been running the labs for a while now this round is the first time I’ve got involved.

Loch Lomand

Having worked on both sides of the fence so to speak – having worked in the private sector for a number of years pitching for work and now at the BBC listening to others pitching their ideas I’ve found the whole experience really interesting.

The idea behind the Innovation labs is to help foster creativity by getting companies with a track record in innovation to pitch their ideas in response to briefs set by the BBC. The ten best in each region are then invited to come along to a week long creative workshop where they work with mentors to develop their ideas before pitching to us BBC folk. If successful the project gets funded and built or at least prototyped.

What this means is that the companies get some funding to develop their idea and time with BBC staff and mentors to help hone their idea. That’s really good – it increases the chances of getting projects that meet the BBC’s objectives, good for the BBC; good for the companies, who have a better chance of succeeding and winning work; and good for the license fee payer who see an improving online service.

But… when we started the process I couldn’t help thinking that we were missing an opportunity, I thought that what would be really good is to spend less time developing the idea and more prototyping the idea.

I have always found innovation to be a contact sport. It works best when there are constraints, objectives and tangible deliverables. Spending too long conceptualising your idea can leave you short of Oxygen, you need to get down from the abstract and deal with the actual. Doing so helps your idea to grow and mature. Rapid prototyping helps not only test the validity of your idea but also helps develop it.

There were some really very bright people at the Innovation Labs, cool ideas and some fun technology. I would have loved to have had a relatively short burst of effort working up the ideas and then a healthy slug of time prototyping the idea, bringing together a team of editorial and technical staff from the BBC with the design and technologists from the companies.

However, having just finished listening to the companies pitch their project to us and seen how all the projects have being improved since Wednesday lunchtime. I have to admit that I was at least in part wrong. The process does add value, the ideas are better as a result of the process and I’m sure the services we will be able to launch are going to be really great. So watch out for lizards on Big Ben, improved user interaction and navigation around our programmes and much more.

Photo: If only Loch Lomand always looked like this..., by Ben Matthews. Used under licence.

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