Excerpt for Innovation Lab Excellence: Digital Transformation from Within by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

“Richard has done a fantastic job chronicling the challenges, traps and opportunities in innovation labs. With his personal experiences in the crushing competitiveness of the Chinese market, along with plenty of experience in the west, he brings a nuanced, global view to what it takes to drive innovation. But perhaps the biggest challenge is how to take innovations out of the lab and into the real world. Read his book and learn what it takes.”

Brett King, International Bestselling Author of
Bank 4.0 and Augmented, Founder of Moven

“Get help to transform your Digital Strategy with this fantastic guidebook on Innovation Labs. Learn from best practices and failures to ensure your business will survive the digital disruption. A must-read for anyone serious about successful innovation!”

Susanne Chishti, CEO FINTECH Circle and the
FINTECH Circle Institute, Co-Editor of
Three Bestsellers: The FINTECH Book,

“Dive deep into Richard’s narrative and resurface better aware of your optimal approach to innovation lab excellence. He looks beyond the hype for a practical approach to the design of innovation programs that prioritize human factors above and beyond technological wizardry.”

Paolo Sironi, IBM Fintech Thought Leader and Author of
Fintech Innovation: From Robo-Advisors to
Goal-Based Investing and Gamification

“Too many organizations seem to believe that if they launch an innovation lab and make some splashy announcements, meaningful progress will somehow magically occur. Turrin knows better than that. His new, comprehensive book is a must-read for all corporations that are taking their labs and innovation seriously.”

Gregg M. Schoenberg, Managing Partner, Wescott Inc.,
Former Publisher and Co-founder of
The Financial Revolutionist

“I’ve never known Rich to pull any punches, and the whole innovation scene needs a bloody nose to make it honest. Rich delivers a thorough going-over here that may be the reset your lab needs. If you’re in the innovation business this book will help you keep it real and do it better.”

Aki Ranin, Co-founder and COO, Bambu

“I used to look at insurance company innovation labs from afar and shake my head. My view then was that innovation is not something that can be bottled, bolted on, bought in, or poured over like a fancy sauce on a day-old meal. That was until I met Rich Turrin. Few have observed this scene more closely than Rich, who’s been in the transformation business for most of his career. He’s nurtured it, advised it and has now written the authoritative book on the subject. If anyone’s got a credible view of the matter, it’s Rich.”

Walter de Oude, CEO, Singapore Life


Innovation Lab Excellence

Digital Transformation from Within

Richard Turrin


Copyright © 2019 by Richard Turrin
All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, scanning, recording, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher is engaged in rendering legal, investment, accounting or other professional services. While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, personal, or other damages.



By Richard Turrin

1. TEC000000 2. BUS070030 3. TEC062000

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-949642-07-0

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-949642-08-7

Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-949642-09-4

Library of Congress Control Number: 2019932742

Cover design by Lewis Agrell

Printed in the United States of America

Authority Publishing

Gold River, CA



To my beloved Sharon whose radiance permeates my life.



Many have contributed to this book, a few knowingly. The majority never knew that their stories would help me see the common thread that unites them all. To all those from the lab world who told me a story that celebrated their success, or sought solace after failure, I thank you.

Several people knowingly and freely gave their time and advice to help complete this book. Gregg Schoenberg helped me see beyond the immediate success of labs to consider a day when they might be at risk of cutbacks. Mayda Lim provided insight into the Singaporean way of doing business and how labs meant so much more to the “little red dot.”

Many acknowledge colleagues new and old, as do I, but few have a single colleague who is both. Paolo Sironi has been a colleague twice—during our younger years in banking and more recently at IBM. Paolo’s writings inspired this book and his gift of expertise and support is reflected in these pages. Thank you, Paolo.

My editor and old friend Christa Weil-Menegas was able to help me find my voice in writing because she knows it so well in person. Her ability to summon my “pull no punches” tone, no matter how tortured the prose, helped make this project a reality. Her insistence that my writing “really wasn’t that bad” helped far more than she will ever know.

Final thanks go out to my wife Sharon who supported this book throughout the journey. Her love and encouragement was the sunshine that nurtured this project to fruition.



Financial institutions are facing unprecedented pressure to keep pace with innovation and transform their business models with secure and sustainable digital offerings. The upsurge of competition from global technology companies and fintech startups is forcing an inflection point: go digital or die. Unfortunately, the transition isn’t easy. There is no simple route to innovation, and no fixed pathway toward digital transformation. Indeed, the recent history of digital platform implementation seems to suggest that only a handful of transformations will be successful.

Whether it’s in banking or another industry, it is difficult for incumbents to approach their innovation refit as a trip back to first principles, rebuilding from there. Reinventing a company from the ground up is hobbled by practical considerations of legacy systems, existing business practices, and organizational structure. Because of this, most companies prefer a stopgap alternative, plugging in new technology incrementally and transforming in stages. Both approaches have pros and cons, which CEOs and their boards need to consider carefully. In truth, many firms seem to apply innovation simply as a cosmetic, using it to accentuate the positive while real problems remain underneath.

How then to transform innovation from wishful thinking into real change? That is the role of Innovation Labs, which face a monumental challenge. They are tasked with the extraordinary responsibility of ensuring the very survival of their institutions. They have remits on multiple fronts. These include understanding the technology that exists today and those with a promising future; knowing the competition, including entities down the road from a myriad of startup entrepreneurs; designing a roadmap for disruptive change that must overcome ingrained habits and years of obsolete “best practices”; and winning the hearts and minds of colleagues whose jobs will change or disappear.

Given these challenges, I believe that a playbook is needed to help innovation labs devise the best course of action. I truly welcome Richard Turrin’s contribution to the topic, which is grounded in many years of interaction with innovation centres. Richard makes no secret of the challenges. He looks beyond the hype for a practical approach to the design of innovation programs that prioritize human factors above and beyond technological wizardry. The core of innovation is people, with our drive, our skills and also our limitations. Digital innovation represents a shift in mindset that must be sold to the organisation and embraced by all interested parties well before the technological hurdles are surmounted.

Dive deep into Richard’s narrative, and resurface better aware of your optimal approach to innovation lab excellence.

Paolo Sironi

IBM Fintech Thought Leader and Author



My career in finance and technology has been anything but a straight line. This, above all, is the tell-tale sign of a natural innovator. The zigs and zags of moving companies and countries has honed my instinct to a razor’s edge and given me insight as to how to shepherd innovation through “the system,” regardless of where I happen to be and how many colleagues are telling me that “it can’t be done.”

Throughout my career, the one constant has been designing and building new financial products that were born from, and depended on, the latest technology. The link between product and digital technology that arguably began with the first mainframes isn’t new, but the magnitude of disruption they are now causing within established businesses is on a completely new scale. The first wave of digitization that I experienced was on the trading floors in the 90’s and with online retail. These disrupted limited pockets of our economy. Now rapid digitization of entire sectors is taking place in what appears to be a winner-take-all race to achieve the killer digital platform. The cost of entry is low—an internet site and an idea is all it takes—allowing everyone from start-ups to global digital giants to take aim at incumbents’ most profitable business lines, if not their entire business. Incumbents are scrambling to find the right balance of innovation and digital transformation that allows them to simultaneously establish a foothold in new digital business, while not burning down their legacy operations and the critical talent within.

Innovation labs aren’t new, nor is innovation. They’ve been called many things over the years and the concept that innovation is a critical part of any business predates the industrial age. What is different and noteworthy within the past 25 years of digital history, in my experience, is the speed with which innovation is transforming our world. We now demand “innovation on tap” and to deliver this, the process of innovation has evolved to become rigorous and studied. Waiting for innovation to occur by chance or lucky break won’t do, nor will allowing it to languish at the whims of those technophobes who would kill it. If innovation labs do one thing, they give innovation a home within your company, which allows it to flourish and improve your chances of survival in the Darwinian process of digital evolution.

Innovation will always have detractors. Throughout my career I’ve been told that the products and technologies I was working on were frivolous, unnecessary or ill-conceived. Sometimes they were right! More often they were wrong. I remained committed to challenging the status quo throughout my career and that keeps me in better stead now than it did in my youth. If you are an innovator reading this book, I’ve got your back. Much of what I write is decidedly from the perspective of the innovator. That said, some of my suggestions may be counterintuitive. As a leader of innovation teams in corporate settings for many years I learned that innovation has to try to mold to the confines of corporate structure. It’s not that the innovation itself is confined, so much as how we present, develop and sell its benefits to bring it to fruition.

Organization of this book

This book focuses on both how to cultivate innovation and how to foster its success within the constraints of a corporate environment. It promotes a series of best practices that may be used individually or in totality to optimize your innovation experience. It is designed to stimulate discussion and perhaps break a few taboos in the process.

As the book is aimed for business-side readers as well as those coming from the tech side, the examples are presented without jargon or deep dives into the nuts and bolts. I have, however, dedicated Chapters 22 and 23 to describing the basic technology your lab will use, and how best to work with early AI projects. Readers who are just beginning their digital journey might opt to read these chapters first if they feel the need to catch up on some basics. These chapters are designed to demystify the technologies used in labs and how best to apply them. The chapters were placed after the main discussion on innovation labs to make the flow of the content more manageable for lab people, who already know these technologies and wish to get straight to best practices.

Part I ~ The Case for Innovation Labs

Chapters 1 through 3 set the stage by examining the root reasons why labs are necessary in our current culture, and where they have come from historically. These chapters outline why you need an innovation lab, and explore the digital changes that have occurred which mandate their existence. I investigate a few alternatives, but in the end a laboratory is a practical way to concentrate the skills you need to complete a transformation in-house. I also look at the historical context of labs, particularly a recent example in which codified rules replicate many of the rules we use in Agile development, but in fact predates Agile by 50 years. This historical observation helps contextualize the use of innovation labs today. We live in unique and interesting times that require special application of technology, but our grandparents’ generation understood the concept of nurturing innovation that still offers lessons to this day.

Part II ~ Best Practices

Chapter 4 introduces the central theme of the book: a series of twelve best practices which, if implemented in whole or part, will increase the efficiency and quality of innovation at your laboratory. The best practices are examined case by case in subsequent chapters. I do not expect readers to immediately recognize themselves or their laboratories from a quick read of the best practices in Chapter 4. No laboratory will have all of these issues, but certainly every laboratory will have some. If some of them resonate, the reader can go directly to the chapter of interest to learn the practical applications for the laboratory.

Optimally, readers should scan all the chapters in the order they are presented. The examples and problem-solving may apply to issues you were unaware of, but are now able to discern. What’s more, the best practices are cumulative and a reader might miss out on benefits if chapters are skipped. They appear roughly in order of overall importance. In each I use real examples, which should help the reader recognize familiar situations and roadblocks: “that’s just like our lab,” setting the stage for fixing them.

Chapters 5 through 16 lay out the best practices in detail. Each has examples of what happens when the practices are ignored, and others where they have been applied with success. Each chapter also provides actions to take to help get your lab more closely aligned with best practices. The starting point for all change is issue-spotting, followed by collaborative steps to resolve problems.

For this reason, the best practices in Chapters 5 through 16 are calibrated to begin discussion among the lab, management, and business units that use the lab. I fully expect that if representatives from these three factions read the same chapter one may say “that’s us” and the others may say “we already do that.” Discovering that a misunderstanding exists means the parties are ready to get productive. Clarity is necessary on roles and shared responsibilities. All too often with innovation labs these hard discussions don’t happen because they are simply too painful or end up accusatory. With a guide in hand with real examples from other labs, such discussions are easier to initiate and more focused on finding a solution. If a discussion ensues, I’ve been successful, and if concrete actions are taken that eventually get all three in agreement, I’d love to hear from you.

Part III ~ Why Do Labs Fail?

Chapters 17 through 20 deal with common patterns of failure in laboratories. It’s no secret that some labs are underperforming. Having seen more than my fair share up close I came to recognize that there are typical clusters of disregard, almost like a doctor recognizes the flu by a combination of fever, cough, and runny nose. Each symptom helps to confirm the diagnosis. In these chapters I discuss what the most common patterns are and the strong medicine required to correct the problem.

If you read Chapters 17-20 and see similarities in your lab, you have some deeply rooted problems to deal with. You will have to retrofit a number of the best practices outlined in Chapters 5-16, and likely deal with a major cultural transformation from within your lab, its parent or both. All is not lost! Even an ailing lab can be coaxed back to health if all the parties recognize the symptoms and patterns of illness.

Part IV ~ Elements of Successful Labs

Chapter 21 is a brief introduction on how to measure performance. While no two labs have the same goals and objectives, there needs to be a flexible system in place to determine if the lab is performing. For many labs this is an afterthought, because there is no agreed standard for success. In most cases labs won’t have a huge success that defines their overall value. In fact, the most successful labs have many small wins that can easily fly under the radar.

The closing Chapters 24 and 25 speak to the longevity of innovation labs. There are two fundamental questions that need to be examined. The first is, are labs the first on the chopping block when a down market hits, or are they a potential savior? The second is, are innovations simply the latest passing management fad? I invite the reader to press on to these chapters for the answers that demonstrate that innovation labs are not only a trend, but are the foundation for change that will ensure a company’s survival well into the future.



Part I: The Case for Innovation Labs

1. The Innovation Lab

2. Why You Need One

3. Learning from the Past

Part II: Best Practices

4. Best Practices for Innovating Our Future

5. Best Practice 1: Be Highly Visible

6. Best Practice 2: Calculate Return on Investment

7. Best Practice 3: Focus on People, Not Tech

8. Best Practice 4: Say No to Carte Blanche

9. Best Practice 5: Balance Staffing

10. Best Practice 6: Avoid the Big Plan

11. Best Practice 7: Buy Don’t Build

12. Best Practice 8: Use Disciplined Project Management

13. Best Practice 9: Flip Your Hackathon

14. Best Practice 10: Transform, Not Disrupt

15. Best Practice 11: The CINO vs the CIO

16. Best Practice 12: Avoid Inflated Expectations

Part III: Why Do Labs Fail?

17. Pattern Recognition

18. Innovation Theater

19. Mission Malpractice

20. BU Breakdown

Part IV: Elements of Successful Labs

21. Measuring the Unmeasurable

22. Understanding the Technology

23. Crossing the Rubicon with AI

24. In Sickness and in Health

25. Digital Nirvana and the Future of Innovation Labs


About the Author

Part I
The Case for Innovation Labs


The Innovation Lab

Innovation is upon us. It seems that nearly every day a new laboratory, space, studio, or center opens, complete with espresso machines, open plan seating and exotic murals. Fill it with twenty- somethings dressed in jeans and t-shirts who are all pictures of digital mastery, bake for about six months, and innovation will flow like a fountain.

If only it were so easy.

In fact, most of the labs I’ve had the pleasure of visiting are underperforming, despite the investment in espresso machines and modern architecture. It’s not that they are going to go bust (thanks to their parent’s deep pockets), but the innovations emerging from these facilities fail to meet the expectations of senior management, or the young innovators are dispirited and feel they are capable of more. In many cases no one is truly happy and the labs themselves are taking a hit.

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