Video: Can Innovation Theater Ever be a Good Thing?

By Tyler Smith |  December 9, 2022

Innovation theater is a term that describes what when big companies try to emulate startup culture, says Steve Blank, the author, blogger, and adjunct professor at Stanford University. It just creates “coffee cups, lanyards, posters, and very little output that moves the top or bottom line,” he says.

But, argues InnoLead Chief Growth Officer Alex Slawsby, “there are situations in which innovation theater actually might be what the doctor ordered,” if the goal is to help the company look more innovative or forward-thinking to customers, for instance.

Blank contends that companies need to have serious conversations about healthy innovation processes and pipelines — and how new ideas will eventually get to market. If not, the company should consider M&A or joint ventures as a path to innovation.

InnoLead CEO Scott Kirsner asks whether innovation theater — high profile activities — can serve to get people’s attention, and get them engaged in innovation activities.

But Blank says, “I think innovation theater is somewhere between heroin and fentanyl. It kind of feels great at first, but then coming down is pretty destructive. What happens is, when these products don’t end up being deployed, or end up in political food fights…your best people just simply leave. And that’s, in fact, the antithesis of what you want.”

Blank cited venture studios as a potentially positive approach for internal or external innovation.