Change / transformation Leadership Management / Strategy

Want to be future-ready? Find your ‘innovation lab’

Want to know what innovation looks like? Check out Marriott’s hotel in downtown Charlotte.

From the outside, the Marriott Charlotte City Center looks like your typical city hotel. The minute you step inside, though, you realize something’s different.

  • There’s no wall-length registration station with snake-like waiting lines. Instead, there are four standing desks; you step up to the nearest free one, get your key, and go on your way.
  • There’s no Starbucks in the lobby. Rather, you’ll find an independent local cafe.
  • There’s no generic burgers-and-steaks restaurant on the lobby level. Instead, you’ll find a establishment called “Stoke” that serves farm-to-table plates like fish stew, duck ragu, charred octopus, and sticky pork shank.
  • There are “beta buttons” on the walls at various places throughout the hotel, allowing guests to “like” or “dislike” various aspects of the hotel, from the guest rooms to the meeting spaces to the fitness center to the restaurants. There's also a running tally of “most liked innovations” as chosen by hotel guests. (See photo above.)

In short, you can call this hotel an “innovation lab.”

It’s where Marriott tries out all of its new ideas. If Marriott has an idea for how to better serve customers, it tries out that idea first at its Charlotte location. Those that work are put into play at other locations. Those that don’t are scrapped.

I’ve been talking about this hotel with CPAs throughout the country for months now, and why? Because I love the concept. It’s a playground for new ideas.

Talking about it and experiencing it are two different things, though. This week, I experienced it.

I stayed at the Marriott Charlotte City Center as part of a strategic planning engagement with the Charlotte-based firm GreerWalker, and all I can say is … wow. This is not how your typical hotel is run. They want to know what you think, then they’ll put those thoughts into action.

Simply put, it was one of the most transformative travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Here’s my question for you: How are you putting new ideas into action? How are you anticipating future trends and seeing if they work? How are you becoming future-ready?

The first step is to find your “innovation lab.” Where can you safely try new ideas to see if they work? Where can you discard bad ideas if they don’t work? Find a place where you can throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. If it sticks, do it again … and again … and again. If it doesn’t, stop doing it.

The stuff that sticks will be the stuff that sustains you going forward and differentiates you from your competition.


William D. Sheridan