Spinning the wheels of innovation – Innolead Impact 2023

Thursday, November 30, 2023

At the end of October,  my colleague Sue Liang and I made our way to Boston to attend the 2023 Innolead Impact event, which centered on key innovation topics such as building new ventures and optimizing your team’s ways of working. As a proud sponsor, we were eager to hear from (and rub shoulders with) an incredible selection of innovation experts. As leaders of our own workshop, we were excited to demonstrate the power of strategy, collaboration, and visual communication.

We put these elements of innovation into practice while developing the activity we brought to the event. Before we arrived, we spent time ideating ways to provide value for the attendees with our team members, including both strategists and designers. With much of the conference speaking to new ways of innovating, we wanted to ensure that the information the attendees left with—and the ideas that the information sparked—wouldn’t fall victim to common pitfalls that appear along the path. We created a workshop that communicated our passion and expertise while also being engaging and informative. Luckily, that’s what we do every day.


Break out of the doom loop

Innovation is challenging. From ideation to execution, many obstacles can stop your idea in its tracks. For many organizations, the majority of these challenges come from within and can lead to promising initiatives fizzling out before they really get started. To break out of this “doom loop,” one must first understand the hurdles that have caused it in the first place. With that in mind, combined with Territory’s expertise in visual thinking, the Wheels of Innovation were born.

The Wheel of Doom

The Wheel of Doom is designed to kickstart a conversation about why your innovative initiatives have failed, with a variety of common categories and topics the reasons could fall under.

Our Impact workshop attendees wrote down real examples of products or services that had failed at their respective organizations and collaborated with fellow attendees to discuss what had gone wrong. Inspired by the visual template, the attendees took to the Wheel of Doom with gusto, and several common reasons for failure emerged. By far, the most common was a lack of support or resources. Attendees found leadership unwilling to provide funding or too inaccessible even to ask. For one group, a risk-averse culture within their organization proved to be their innovation’s ultimate downfall.

The Wheel of Fortune

Once you know what went wrong, the natural next step is to figure out what to do differently. The Wheel of Fortune provides some firestarter topics for this conversation.

Our workshop attendees discussed alternative actions that could have been taken to change the outcome to ensure success, such as ensuring buy-in early on in the process (especially from leadership) and working collaboratively rather than in silos. Other takeaways included keeping the customer top-of-mind and using visual thinking to communicate with both coworkers and customers. For some, the workshop format itself served as inspiration. Several commended the illustrated templates, noting how helpful they were in understanding and completing the activity, a reminder of the power of visual communication.

Looking to the future

Ultimately, the goal of the Wheels of Innovation activity is to come away with a better understanding of how your innovations have failed and discover actionable ways to ensure future initiatives are set up for success. For our workshop attendees, that also meant setting them up for success to implement what they learned throughout the rest of the Impact event.

From hearing from a chief advisor to NASA on the future of AI to talking with the president of the Boston Celtics about innovation strategy, the Impact event was filled with valuable data, resources, and best practices for attendees to take back to their organizations. Our goal was to ensure that these learnings truly made an impact and that they, and the innovations they help inspire, don’t succumb to the “doom loop” that has claimed so many potential ideas.


Want to give it a try? Download the printable Wheels of Innovation tool

Parker Lee

Parker Lee is the managing partner of Territory, a design consultancy, who has developed and led teams in transformation, design thinking, and business development for decades. Co-author of The Art of Opportunity, he has created and facilitated dozens of design and visual thinking engagements.

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