Skip to main content

Sloan Center News

“Innovation Lab” to Transform Team Creativity into Business Solutions

sloan center project studies age diversity as catalyst for change

25 January, 2010—Even though most companies are aware of changing workplace and marketplace demographics, fewer than a third of U.S. firms have taken proactive steps to transform awareness into action, according to the recent Talent Management Study by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

Nowhere is this more visible than in innovation.

Business currently spends over $1 trillion a year on innovation. And while McKinsey surveys find that 70% of top executives claim innovation is one of the top three drivers of growth over the next five years, fully two-thirds are not confident in their company’s ability to innovate. What is the missing ingredient? Leveraging the different life experiences and mindsets of today’s multigenerational workforce.

“Changing age demographics offer both challenges and opportunities for innovation,” comments Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. “The question is: can companies capitalize on their full range of diversity? Many have the fuel for innovation in their midst—an age diverse, experientially rich workforce—they just need new multigenerational forums to ignite it.”

The newly launched Executive Innovation Lab will study how multigen innovation works in several companies.

The Lab is a fast-paced, results-oriented process that simultaneously engages multiple company leaders and their Innovation Teams in a series of rapid prototyping sessions that funnel ideas toward the solution of a business problem or opportunity.

“The Lab itself is an innovation,” according to Philip Mirvis, an organizational psychologist and Senior Research Scientist, who co-designed the effort. The Lab’s distinctive approach integrates teams of employees with a full spectrum of age and life experiences—matures, boomers, Gen X, and Millenials—mixed together in an innovation hothouse. The teams will have access to the latest research on age diversity and regular inputs on handling their age differences as well as innovation challenges.

Each leader and team will also coach the other company teams. Meanwhile, a researcher will monitor multigenerational dynamics and provide regular feedback and support for Lab participants.

Companies are already engaging in the Lab, defining areas for innovation and beginning to assemble multigenerational teams. Innovations focus on extending the age-appeal of current products and services, the use of social media in marketing and employee relations and, in one case, leveraging age diversity more broadly in a company. There are still a few company openings for the pilot beginning spring, 2010.

“We expect to see more ideas, cross-pollination, and catalytic conflict in the multigen teams versus the garden variety,” says Mirvis, “and hopefully some cool innovations will emerge.”

—Chad Minnich, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, Sloan Center on Aging & Work.


More on the Executive Innovation Lab »