Off the Record with Paul Lafata of Daimler AG's Corporate Incubator, Lab1886


Recently, 352 had a packed house for our Off the Record conversation with Paul Lafata, CEO of Daimler AG’s Corporate Incubator, Lab1886. 352’s SVP of Innovation, Robert Berris, facilitated the discussion.

Throughout the morning, Paul and Robert explored a wide range of topics. Paul shared his viewpoints on high-level innovation concepts, while also providing thoughtful, real-world advice for common obstacles innovators face today.

Three main themes surfaced during this candid conversation:

  • The unique perspective of a corporate incubator
  • Preventing substantial failures in a highly experimental environment
  • Practicing innovation excellence

The unique perspective of a corporate incubator

Within a global organization like Daimler, Lab1886 is unique to the company because of its U.S. geography. After a year and a half after the initial launch of the incubator, Paul highlighted specific learnings he and his team have gathered.

He acknowledged that a common frustration amongst corporate innovators is the inability to see progress being made on a project that stemmed from innovation.

There is a need for an experimental piece of the business. Almost everything we do is just outside or adjacent to the core business. The incubator has an advantage of seeing the full cycle of a project. We can build any team we need to complete the idea.

Preventing substantial failures in a highly experimental environment

A common saying heard in innovation is “fail quickly,” but how realistic is that notion at a global enterprise like Daimler? Paul admitted that he prefers the term “thoughtful experimentation” instead.

You don’t have to get it right on day one in innovation. Take smaller bets so you can learn quickly and demonstrate how those learnings helped avoid a larger potential failure.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent all missteps. When asked for an example of a recent failure, Paul mentioned the challenges of a frequently evolving innovation team. He stated one shortcoming he had was bringing in a great team with fantastic talent, but at the wrong time of the project.

Practicing innovation excellence

During the attendee Q&A portion of the Off the Record conversation, Paul shared some incredibly practical words of wisdom and inspiration for innovators.

Be open to all options in reaching a goal. It’s important to look outside of your own industry and try to intersect the biggest drivers in society.

Paul also discussed the importance of having new ideas in the pipeline and creating processes to support achieving those ideas.

The act of writing out your process can truly solidify it. Speed needs to be combined with intentionality. You can’t just do things in haste, skipping fundamental steps in a process, but speed is critical to success.

If you missed this event, we hope this recap was helpful and you’ll join us next time. Look for our next Off the Record in January 2020!

About Off The Record

In 2016, what started as an experiment to bring together 30 corporate innovators turned into the largest corporate innovation community in the southeast. Our community of 800+ innovators convenes at Off the Record monthly for unique content, best practices, networking and swapping war stories. To learn more, visit


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.