Innovation: A Blend Of Discipline And Disorder9 May, 2017 / Articles
Last year, I facilitated and planned two different brainstorming sessions that involved two healthcare companies. In both sessions, the healthcare companies (relatively staid and disciplined) partnered with Google (a company known for its innovation) to bring new ideas, products and/or services to life. In both cases, the combination of skills and the incredibly different approach to innovation led to some really big thinking. As the two innovation pathways collided, brilliant sparks began to fly.
One of the partnerships was in life sciences, with Google’s Verily. The other one was in advertising with Google’s catalyst advertising business development team. The planning and preparation for the sessions began to unveil the companies’ very different approaches as the brainstorm objectives and logistics unfolded. One side of the brainstorm team was eager to conduct pre-meetings with me, planning every aspect of our objectives and deliverables. (This is how I’m comfortable working, too; I like to exceed clients’ expectations and cannot do that unless I know what they are.)
On the Google side, they gleefully allocated a team of thinkers and innovators to the project. These folks would show up for the session but were not readily available for planning meetings. When I could connect with them, I found them to be as insightful and talented as the healthcare clients, but very little if anything was ever documented.
Our goals, in both cases, were lofty: Ideate and identify disruptive and breakthrough approaches to address a critical business challenge or opportunity and begin to tackle how we’d deliver these ideas.
For one of the sessions, we held the team meeting in the large medical company’s beautifully appointed conference room. It was covered in teak wood and was state of the art. The doors were closed in the hushed hallways for maximum confidentiality. While the space was wonderful, it did not necessarily inspire optimal breakthrough thinking. Our team had to work hard to create an environment that fostered creativity and fun. While not insurmountable, it required gorgeous posters, creative collages, toys, crayons and bubble gum.
For the other session, we booked a room at Google’s New York City headquarters. Security in the building was tight but after that, the journey was magical. To get to this room, we had to walk past a wall of grass and a winter ski lodge themed kitchen. We were encouraged to help ourselves to their plethora of food (including five types of coffees) but were warned that Googlers could pop into any meeting they liked so we might have surprise guests. The free thinking and brainstorming began way before we got into our conference room. Our breakout room had no tables, just large foam cushions we could sit on, climb on, or I guess – if I were not an engaging facilitator – sleep on. (Fortunately, nobody dozed.) We posted our ideas on the glass walls and ideas flowed.
As I worked to keep us moving through our many fast-paced exercises, even the language and questions coming from both teams were very different. A focus on safety and on truly understanding the customer came from one side, and breaking through barriers and re-imagining a category that customers couldn’t possibly articulate came from others. Where prototypes were involved, Google just built, tested, optimized and did it again. The other companies moved to concepts, drawings and 3D animations. The idea of a fully operational prototype that would be discarded was crazy to them; technology and software companies build something that mostly works and fix the bugs as they go.
In healthcare, partly due to regulation (but also because this is just how it’s always been done), claims are clinically proven before they are uttered and prototypes come much later in the process. To really innovate and re-imagine the way we had to in both of these categories, we actually needed earlier prototypes and substantial claims. We needed to understand consumer insights and give them what they didn’t even know to ask for – this hybrid pathway to innovation brought great early results.
Our list of priority ideas was long and rich. By recognizing the divergent styles and designing exercises that leveraged both, the two groups built on each other’s strengths and helped break down each other’s barriers. The collision of chaos with control, risk with care, and brilliant minds on both sides is the future of innovation.