TomorrowLab takes organisations on a journey to innovation

Yin Oei of Belgian innovation facilitator TomorrowLab discusses the importance of an innovation culture

The world is changing at breakneck speed. Only companies who innovate and adapt to these changes will stay ahead of their competitors and survive. But innovation has become more complex, which obligates organisations to leave their comfort zone. TomorrowLab has been guiding companies, governments and cities through this complexity for more than ten years.

Here’s a mind-boggling statistic: according to a recent study from the US innovation agency Innosight, nearly 50% of the current S&P 500 companies will be replaced over the next decade. The lifespan of companies is decreasing, mainly because of increased disruption. Especially larger, long-standing companies are at risk of being replaced by companies that have only been around for ten years.

How can you arm yourself against this as an organisation? By strategically innovating your products, services, even business models, says Yin Oei, CCO at TomorrowLab, one of Belgium’s leading consultancy agencies in the field of innovation and digitalisation.

“Understandably, it has become much harder for companies to be innovative, which is why an external agency like TomorrowLab can be a great asset,” says Yin Oei. “We help companies think about possible future scenarios and we lay out roadmaps to innovation. But you can only talk about real innovation when it is adopted by the market. That is why we do more than presenting abstract models. We implement innovation plans and make sure you get tangible, short- or long-term business results.”

TomorrowLab’s customer portfolio is as rich as it is impressive. Among many others, projects include smart urban furniture for the city of Aalter (Belgium), lifesaving ambulance drones equipped with Automated External Defibrillators for the Ghent University Hospital, a strategic business plan for Belgian IT specialist Tobania and an automatic RFID delivery box for Belgian post service bpost.

TomorrowLab helps companies and organisations to internalise a culture of innovation.
Yin Oei

TomorrowLab is closely linked to Living Tomorrow, a unique innovation and demonstration platform in Brussels where innovations are showcased in real-life settings. Living Tomorrow started 25 years ago and shows organisations what the future can look like. TomorrowLab takes it one step further, by helping businesses and governments on their journey to innovation.

Innovate or die

Especially in today’s fast-paced world, you would think that most organisations know how to handle innovation. Quite the contrary, says Yin Oei.

“Long-standing market leaders are often too large and too complex to innovate at a fast pace and to come up with valuable innovation projects. As a result, they give room to smaller competitors, who still have the innovating edge. The large corporations are not agile enough, to use a buzz word.”

“KODAK and Nokia are probably two of the most cited examples of this. KODAK totally missed the boat of digital photography, while Nokia did not take part in the smartphone revolution. Both companies went down due to a lack of innovation culture and due to an environment where there was no room for experimentation and failure.”

Luckily, these examples have brought a sense of urgency to the market. Organisations are aware that they need to innovate. But it is not always clear how innovation can fit into their “business as usual” mindset. Moreover, innovation requires an understanding of how the world will evolve. Not an easy task and probably not something you can pull off on your own. If you want to set up new business models or use new technologies, you will need to talk to other companies and build new alliances. Setting up your new and innovative ecosystem is hard, requires deep understanding and takes time.

Why innovation is not always successful

Organisations often have many great ideas, but somehow, they are having a hard time turning those ideas into commercial successes. The reasons are plenty.

“Businesses often get discouraged because their innovation projects do not generate short-term, tangible results. It takes too long to bring their innovation to the market. Customers also come to us because they find it hard to coordinate the entire innovation process. Many companies have great field experts, but there is nobody to keep track, maintain an overview and steer everyone in the right direction. This is where TomorrowLab comes in.”

“There is an increasing need for T-shaped professionals, who have deep knowledge and skills in a particular area of specialisation, but who are also capable of making connections across disciplines. TomorrowLab has been providing these skills to almost half of Belgium’s top 100 companies.”

Before you want to start innovating, you need to know where you are headed. Innovation needs to serve your company goals. For TomorrowLab, an innovation cycle starts with gaining insights about your current situation and the world around you, exploring your strategic options, and then formulating your future mission.

“It’s this strategic component that is critical, but often overlooked in innovation projects. We have recently carried out a study in which we quantified time spent on strategic activities in failed companies. The study revealed that about 40% was spent on operations, a similar amount of time on financial reporting, and only 6% on company strategy. These numbers might seem reasonable at first sight. But when you look at the reasons why many of those businesses have failed, 14% of the failed cases can be brought back to an operational, financial or legal cause, but no less than 86% of the failure cases can be attributed to the lack of a future-oriented company strategy. That is a startling discrepancy.”

“Our study revealed that failed organisations only spent 6% of their time on strategy, while in 86% of the cases a lack of company strategy was the reason for failure.”
Yin Oei

 Long-term vision, tangible results

In order to help organisations to get a grip on innovation and achieve short-term tangible results, TomorrowLab has broken down its portfolio in a number of functional service modules.

Foresight

What does the future look like for our company? What are the opportunities and threats? The Foresight module helps the customer to explore different future scenarios and see whether innovative ideas are future-proof.

Strategy

How will you build the future you have imagined? The strategy module looks closely at the strategic capabilities and stakeholders you will need to turn your innovation into a commercial success. Based on your strategy, we lay out a roadmap towards commercial rollout.

Develop & deliver

How will you put innovation into practice? TomorrowLab helps you turn your most valuable innovation ideas into validated opportunities. We develop a business case for your selected idea and help you build a scalable proof of concept.

Connect

We help you step outside the walls of your own organisation and harness the power of your ecosystem. We identify the most relevant stakeholders who can validate your ideas, we assist with the implementation of your innovation, and we act as a catalyst for new partnerships.

Innovation excellence

How can you keep innovation going in your organisation? Here, we help you build an internal culture of innovation. We look at your tools and organisational set-up, we make sure that everybody is on board with your innovation strategy, and we train your team to take the next steps in your innovation journey.

Experts

A team of experienced TomorrowLab specialists is your shortcut to knowledge in different areas of expertise, from retail to energy, from banking & finances to production & manufacturing, and from logistics & mobility to high-tech. We help you reach your innovation goals faster and make sure you achieve tangible results.

Outside-in approach

For TomorrowLab, innovation is not something that happens on an island. It takes an outside-in approach, says Yin Oei.

“Our customers are often so stuck in their own operations and in their own beliefs, that they no longer see what is happening outside their company walls. That is why our innovation programs include insights on demographic, technological, ecological and sociological trends that could have an impact on an organisation’s current business model.”

“But looking in from the outside also means that we are not afraid of bringing in external experts: governments, academics, entrepreneurs… We consider the entire ecosystem of an organisation.

We also invite people to our innovation centre Living Tomorrow in Brussels, where you can find inspiration, see tangible use cases and encourage your team to get out of their comfort zone. This is open innovation in its true form.”

A culture of innovation

In recent years, many companies have set their first steps towards digital transformation. Although digitalisation has already led to exponential growth in many industries, companies have often limited themselves to digitally mimicking analogue ways of working. There is no doubt that digital technology plays a major role in innovating today’s business models, but technology alone will not be enough to prepare organisations for the future. There is also a need for cultural change.

“In order to remain competitive, companies need to foster a culture of innovation. Sometimes, organisations celebrate the success of one innovation project, only to relapse into their old habits. That’s a shame. Especially in larger organisations – both commercial and communal – employees tend to reside safely in their own silos and ingrained habits. Employees are expected to be productive and billable. But when you want innovation to flourish in your organisation, you also need to give people some room.”

Innovation is inextricably linked with a strong vision of the future. Strong personalities that propagate a company’s strategic vision can have a knock-on effect on the entire workforce. A strong vision can make sure that everybody is on the same page in the organisation.

“Employees are expected to be productive and billable. But when you want innovation to flourish in your organisation, you also need to give people some room.”
Yin Oei

The time is now

Organisations are coping with technological and societal changes that come at us faster than ever. The need to innovate has therefore never been more pressing.

The challenges and opportunities are numerous. 90% of all data has been created in the last two years and the big data revolution is in full swing. Technology gradually becomes pervasive in our daily lives, making sure that everyone and everything is connected. Artificial intelligence promises to bring immense productivity gains, but also raises many ethical and privacy concerns. Rapid urbanisation and demographic changes challenge the way we live and work.

Is your organisation flexible and resilient enough to cope with these changes? According to Yin Oei, companies can no longer rest on their laurels. Now is the time to start innovating.

“TomorrowLab has the experts to make this happen. We create and organise your innovation, we help you install a culture of innovation, and we make sure your innovation efforts result in tangible outcomes. Thanks to our outside-in approach, we broaden your view and stimulate you to open up for the many possibilities of innovation.”