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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Are you innovating on purpose?

By Martin Callaghan, Director of Innovation, Oxford PharmaGenesis

Martin Callaghan

Question: what connects Alphabet, Amazon, Lilly, Visa, IKEA, PepsiCo, Nike, Volkswagen, Mayo Clinic, AstraZeneca, The New York Times, LEO Pharma, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Zurich, Airbnb, Hilton and The Walt Disney Studios?

Answer: they all innovate ‘on purpose’ via dedicated units. While many of these units have colourful names (particularly Lockheed Martin’s ‘Skunkworks’ that began in 1943), they all represent groups within a company that are allowed the freedom to explore potential future products and services. But do you need a specific group to innovate on purpose? Not necessarily – in this article we’ll look at a few simple ways to innovate more effectively.

Why should you innovate on purpose?
There’s a problem with innovation across all industries. Does any of the following sound familiar? You’re facing a business challenge, so you need to get a group of people together. You invite people, maybe not the ‘right’ people – those best suited to solving the problem or offering insights into why it occurs – but often whoever has the time. You find a room and start brainstorming; the extroverts, with their loud voices, or the most senior people, with their authority, dominate, while the voices of junior or more introverted people are lost in the maelstrom. You start frantically putting sticky notes on a wall, where they slowly peel off, making the floor beneath look like a stationery-based autumnal woodland. There are some great ideas, but the group decides to focus on the ones they think might offer ‘quick wins’, or that fit a certain agenda. During the write-up the rest are lost, buried somewhere in your filing system. Then everyone dashes off to their next meeting or back to their desks to deal with the usual stack of deadlines. A solution is created later, perhaps involving other people whose different understanding of the challenge leads to something new that doesn’t really solve the original problem. Ultimately, leaving the way you innovate to chance presents a barrier to creating outcomes that represent real change.

How do you innovate on purpose?
It might sound counterintuitive to creative thinking, but to innovate well you need a managed process, and ideally a facilitator, to help people to get started, to ensure they know where they are in the process and focus on the right things a step at a time. A great place to start is the ‘double diamond’ model, which splits the process into four stages:

  • discover – understanding the problem, challenging assumptions, empathising with end users and identifying constraints
  • define – framing the challenge in a different way, which can reveal surprising perspectives on solving it
  • develop – creating ideas for potential solutions
  • deliver – testing prototype solutions quickly and iteratively.

Digital tools such as Viima (although there are many others) or virtual whiteboarding tools like Miro, can help you asynchronously and collaboratively capture and discuss insights and ideas throughout the process so that nothing is lost, while fostering a sense of democratic camaraderie around dealing with a challenge together.

Who should be involved?
As the design consultancy Ideo says, 'all of us are smarter than any of us', so try to make your innovations process inclusive. The role of cross-company innovation initiatives and their facilitators is key in bringing people from different teams, seniorities and backgrounds together to break down siloed thinking. Everyone has something to contribute, but everyone might not be able to contribute in the same way. Structured brainstorming techniques can help; for example, the Disney method allows people to contribute to solving a problem in ways that fit their own personalities, roles and experiences by inviting them to be ‘dreamers’, ‘realists’ or ‘critics’ at different stages of a workshop without needing everyone to contribute at every stage. Taking the idea of diversity and inclusivity further, the more diverse the group of people (by age, experience, ethnicity, gender, role, etc) that you can bring together to focus on a problem, the more diverse the ideas you’ll get about solving it. Encouraging people to bring ‘who they are’, what they’ve experienced and what’s influenced them to the initiative will help you generate truly unique ideas, rather than average ones resulting from ‘groupthink’.

A challenge for you
Next time you’re facing a challenge, take some time to think about ‘how’ you’re going to tackle it – by changing your approach, you just might get some different results than what you’ve been used to. As the old saying goes, 'if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got'.

Martin Callaghan is Director of Innovation at Oxford PharmaGenesis

7th December 2021

From: Healthcare

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