Pete Gale, head of user experience for Blue Latitude, on the challenge of innovation
The current global economic climate presents a challenging environment for all industries right now, and healthcare is far from immune. Drug-makers are facing up to their inevitable patent cliffs and the rise of generic products, while all players in the ecosystem are racing to adjust to technological and demographic shifts, including older populations, ever-increasing access to mobile devices and the need to broaden healthcare provision.
‘Business as usual’ is rarely a good strategy, even in times of certainty and consistency, but in the current economic climate such an approach simply looks foolhardy, Greater innovation is clearly required. The problem here for drug-makers, however, is that their innovation focus has been at the level of scientific R&D, concentrated on the development of new molecules and bringing new compounds to market.
But in the face of narrowing pipelines and a decline in the speed of advances at a product level, the new imperatives for success require active innovation in areas beyond the pills themselves: in the services offered alongside the product; the marketing of these solutions; and the business processes that can support the changes these require. It’s a simple premise, but to be successful at innovation requires (by definition) brilliant execution in uncharted territory. Quite a challenge, and one that we see many organizations failing to meet.
Innovation, at its simplest is a well-understood process. A divergent phase, where new ideas are developed, followed by a convergent phase, where those ideas are focused and refined. But process in itself does not lead to innovation, and this simple path is littered with traps for the unwary. So what are some of the most common, and how can you plan to step past them?
Moving away from entrenched positions
In many cases, a first cycle of idea generation is simply a chance to air old ideas. That’s OK, as long as you recognize this and make a conscious effort to go further. For example, try running multiple ideation sessions over a week and pushing participants to develop new or improved ideas at each round.
Understanding real world behaviors and attitudes
To generate effective concepts we need consensus around a deep understanding of our audience, their goals, their challenges and their attitudes. It is this understanding that both unifies teams and moves them away from entrenched positions. Just don’t think that this can come from statistics alone; to develop really effective ideas, a team needs empathy, not numbers on slides.
In many cases, innovation teams suffer from sharing a limited range of perspectives and a common expertise. Real innovation is often found in the synergies between different perspectives, and the meeting of very different areas of expertise. We’ve seen great results from the inclusion of customer-facing staff (such as call center personnel) and technical staff.
Any process of refinement is only as good as the information informing it. Too often, evaluation is biased towards a particularly compelling framework or skill set, leading to risk in later development. Are you evaluating your concepts with real users? Considering regulatory constraints? Modeling performance against the business case? Evaluating feasibility?
Does your team have sufficient opportunities to respond to what it learns? It’s rare to find the right answer first time. Great products and services tend to be the result of significant and repeated refinement effort by skilled teams. It’s important to allow both sufficient iterations of a concept and sufficient time within each of those to fully develop current thinking.
As teams spend more time together, working at a common problem, it can be very hard to avoid a consensus developing on what the right answer is. Such groupthink can quickly lead a team astray. Nothing beats testing prototypes with real users to jolt a team out of complacency, but if you can’t do this, then rigorous impartial evaluation, by independent experts comes a close second.
Now for the real challenge…
Putting in place an innovation process which can demonstrably deliver the thinking required is difficult enough; harder still can be pushing past the resistance that these ideas frequently meet, even though this resistance is from the organization that called for this thinking in the first place. Addressing the organizational changes required for implementing new and groundbreaking ideas is frequently the biggest challenge to any innovation project, and as such needs to be recognized and anticipated at the outset of any process in order to ensure success.
Pete Gale is head of user experience with digital business and marketing consultancy Blue Latitude.
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