Innovation. Everybody wants it. It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in healthcare, and there are many conferences and departments dedicated to it. Life science companies are clambering to get in on the ground floor of that next big thing, and yet ironically, almost everybody does it wrong.
The sorts of activities, especially in the pharma world, that tend to be associated with innovation include things like “Shark Tank” pitch contests, change management initiatives, skunkworks, acquisition of startups, hackathons, venture partnerships, and hiring consulting companies to conduct innovation frameworks. All of these processes may be worthy of producing innovation, but they all tend to be conducted in discrete, independent, and scattered situations. They are typically not tactical, nor are they united in a sustainable long-term strategy of innovation. Furthermore, innovation tends to be connotated with technology and tangible gadgets, which may not help everyday needs.
Pursuing innovation as mentioned above may offer great opportunities for PR, but they are limited in their ability to solve real-world problems and are at odds with how true innovation gets developed.
In order to innovate, one must understand the root of the problem that they are trying to solve. Here are some fundamental principles on innovating innovation:
1. Innovation is not always about technology
The approach to innovation we developed at Klick is first and foremost detached from technology. Innovation, especially in pharma and biotech fields, tends to be associated with technology. When you hear the word “innovation”, you are likely to think of technologies, such as Alexa, Apple Watch, FitBit, Blockchain, AI, Machine Learning, etc. This belief bias comes from the false syllogism that since most innovation is technology, then technology must be innovation. In reality, technology is simply a tool; it is not the starting point of solving problems.
2. Ask the right questions and find the root cause of an intractable problem
The model that we have developed for innovation is not about starting with a solution, but about starting with the right question and the right problem. It has to be a problem that cannot be answered with turnkey, one-size-fits-all tools and methods.
Asking the right questions is where most of the hard work in innovation work is done in order to deconstruct and unpack the problem to get to the root cause of the issue. The root cause typically falls into three camps:
- Behavioral: People acting a certain way, whether it is patients not taking their medication, or a physician deciding on a treatment that may not be optimal for a patient’s outcome.
- Technological: Not having the right machine to predict, detect, or be aware of clinical outcomes, such as predicting when an exacerbation of a specific physiological event will take place.
- Economic: The overall cost of the solution to the user, even though the behaviors and technology aspects of the problem are solvable. An example of this is identifying patients with a rare disease; it may take several years to diagnose the patient, and they could have been treated earlier if it was possible to identify the disease earlier. The best way to diagnose patients would be to use genome sequencing for an entire population. It would be possible to find those rare diseases, but the cost is not practical. (There are also additional legal and ethical challenges in this example).
Identifying problems are difficult to do on our own without an external vantage point. We all inherently have biases that limit our perspectives on life. This is why people go to a psychologist for enhancing mental well-being, and why businesses hire consultants to advise on commercial strategies. An external partner is needed to see things differently, and to demonstrate what you cannot see even though it may be right in front of you.
Identifying the right problem in innovation involves the ability to step back with a cross-functional and multidisciplinary perspective to see the problem for what it really is.
3. Solve the problem with science, not intuition
Once you’ve identified your problem, you need to solve it and this requires a scientific method, rather than your “gut instinct.” Similar to other scientific research, innovation involves creating hypotheses to generate ideas that address the problem. These ideas are then filtered to evaluate the ones that work within whatever scientific or environmental constraints exist. Assessing research protocols and limitations involves pilot experimentation with behavioral research, market research, and prototype development. The goal is to determine the best solution that will solve your problem. After pilot research, larger scale validation studies can be conducted to refine the proof of concept and theory, which may involve anything from online surveys to full-fledged randomized clinical trials. The final validation results should now be translated into disseminable information for the public.
Innovation isn’t as simple and straightforward as most people perceive it to be. Creating innovation involves having the right questions, tools, education, skills, experience, and social connections to solve problems in the real world. Having a dedicated innovation lab at Klick, filled with a cross-functional team of various specialists, allows us to focus full-time on providing a full white-glove service for innovation in healthcare.