Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) May 2013

Innovation Cell

The term “Innovation Cell” was apparently developed by Hella, a German auto parts supplier, which convinced BMW to apply it. They used a development team concept called Innovation Cell which has the potential to create break-through innovations consistently. Below is the original explanation that inspired the way we work. [1]

— An Innovation Cell (IC) is a specific form of project organization. It consists of a team of volunteers who are dedicated, have full control over the project, and who will disband once the project is over. ICs are particularly suited to innovations and projects with high risks. They have proven themselves in the complex environment of the automotive industry. ICs are often used for the early stages of development, where the gap between idea and product is greatest. Such is the case when the technology is known but the product is not, or a customer is interested in a new product or feature but the feasibility is not yet proven. With ICs you can turn previously unattainable market opportunities to your advantage, such as when you feel there is a new market opportunity but you don’t quite know which product would allow you to grasp it, or when your competitor is about to come out with a new product and you need to follow quickly. ICs provide these possibilities because of five characteristics, which if applied with rigor guarantee success: autonomy, dedication, co-location, goal orientation, and transience. Dedication and goal-orientation are nothing new and can be found in any good project team. The other three deserve some explanation. Autonomy provides the IC with independence from its originating organization. The details of a particular innovation cell’s autonomy are negotiated in its foundation phase. The result of these negotiations is respected by everyone involved for the duration of the cell. This is a tough request, because of the tendency to withdraw key people from such teams in crisis situations or to interfere when things are perceived as too slow, un-orderly or non-predictable. But creative work is exactly that at certain times. Autonomy shields the team from impatient managers outside the team. But this freedom has a price: a high degree of self-organization and reliability of all team members. 


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