6 reasons to host a design thinking or innovation event within your organization

There are more benefits to hosting design thinking sessions or innovation events than just the innovation work output that is produced at the event. When done well they can have a uniquely positive impact for the organization’s culture of innovation and for your people. Go beyond “innovation theatre” and design an invent that can have impact in these six ways.

Co-Innovator recruitment

Hosting design thinking workshops or innovation events that invite in people outside the organization can be an excellent resource to find and recruit co-innovators. Hosting an innovation or design thinking event with your customers or users can be a great way to recruit co-creators for your innovations from those that will pay for them and use them. By hosting an event like a hackathon with a group of computer science students at a local college or university, a company creates an opportunity to see how the students work and innovate – how they engage and interact with one another, what kind of ideas they generate, how they solve problems, build prototypes, etc. This can help the organization identify potential new hires.

Identification of internal innovators

An innovation event can also be a good way to identify people interested in contributing to innovation already within an organization. Hosting a smaller innovation event and noting the employees who raise their hands or volunteer to attend can be effective for identifying these promising innovators. You can build your innovation teams around those that first qualify themselves by attending an event signaling their interest in innovation.

When I first endeavored to document approaches to innovation within large organizations, I hoped to find and share the keys to help anyone within an organization become more innovative. I thought the process should engage everyone and be very democratic. But over the years, I’ve come to embrace a more realistic understanding to innovation within large organizations that starts with fewer people instead of everyone. Many employees may never have been exposed to innovation practice in a formal or intentional way, or have the skill development, the learning, the processes or the mindset to properly approach it with meaningful contributions within the organization immediately. Innovation professional development is needed.

Many employees may not be engaged in their work or spend time thinking about the future of the organization – or see a vision of themselves as a part of that future. This is not the kind of person who the organization can count on to engage in innovation for the future if they do not have an interest in being a part of this future or they are disengaged. However, there are people in the organization who ARE interested in innovation. What I’ve started to see is organizations starting small – taking the handful of people within the organization interested in innovation and putting them on teams and engaging them in real innovation challenges. The people who volunteer are the logical ones to start with.

Idea development

A structural change is often times required to produce innovation movement within an organization. An email sent out asking employees to be more innovative in their work is easy to ignore, but carving out time and hosting an event can be a structural solution that directly engages employees to generate new and useful ideas that might not otherwise be surfaced in a specific time and at a specific place. The event can yield ideas or other innovation action that is needed (such as opportunity or problem finding, validation, communication, etc.). Focus your event on those activities that tap into employees to generate, develop, validate, or communicate ideas. Get the innovation work done while people are together and are focused at the event.

Exposure (to new technologies)

Innovation events can be a time and place to help people learn about and get their hands on new technologies, devices, and applications. An event can even be an excellent opportunity to promote and share the technologies and products, both those your company is developing or has already developed, with employees. Conversely, you might show the exciting technologies company engineers are working with or any special projects. That kind of transparency and openness can help energize your employees and pique their interest in the innovation process happening within your organization.

Learning (training and developing skills)

An event that is a training workshop can help people to learn new tools and techniques they can apply at the workshop and beyond into their work. Focus on helping them to learn through working on a real innovation in their work. Show them the tools, techniques, and methods they can use again and again. Engage them in trying them out at the innovation workshop. Hosting innovation events at your annual conferences or meetings can also be a great time and place to engage your wider workforce in innovation skill development. These events help push employees toward innovation and can contribute to their important education and learning, which are critical for the future of the organization. Even if your event is not explicitly about organizational learning or skill development (like a training workshop), people will learn if they are engaged in the doing of innovation…and have a chance to reflect on that.

Modeling & scaling a culture of innovation

A culture of innovation is one where the organizational value of innovation is important and lived by employees in their work. An innovation event communicates that the organization values innovation since it is dedicating resources to the innovation event and promoting it is a valuable use of time for employees. An innovation event can send the message that innovation is necessary and valued for future growth of the organization. Plus, the event can be memorable and something employees can reflect on when identifying if their organization values innovation. You can even start with a smaller group of “innovation volunteers.” Once this group interested in innovating begins to collaborate, they can scale up by engaging the rest of the organization through innovation events such as hackathons, design thinking workshops, or pitch events which can be unique organization traditions or practices.

Go beyond “innovation theatre”

Be careful of “innovation theatre,” which is just putting on an event for fun. If you are creating an innovation center in your organization, make sure you also have innovation activities and events in the center. Make sure your innovation events have an impact and achieve real outcomes, like the six we mention above. A well designed event can help you to move forward on real innovations or at least help people gain awareness, connection, learning, or insight. At the very least, an event can help people understand the value of innovation for the organizational culture and future. They can not only feel involved in the evolution of the organization but actually BE involved.  The event is the special place and time that involves them and engages them.


Do you need help in offering or designing a high-impact design thinking workshop or innovation event? Let us know about what you are working on by emailing me at darin@innovationtraining.org. We’ve designed events and programs for over 100 organizations and may be able to give you some insight, help, tips, or connection. We also can help you with our design thinking facilitator train the trainer innovation certificate program so you can facilitate and run your own events in many different ways.