Innovation in Healthcare: Overcoming Organizational Physics for Change and Growth
I just came back from the Healthcare Marketing and Physician Strategies Summit in Chicago.
Among the many interesting (and challenging) presentations was a speech by Jeremy Gutsche, author and CEO of TrendHunter. He shared insights on Innovation (Titled “Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas) that were very thought provoking.
I must admit I come to the subject of innovation in healthcare with a decided bias. I have been working in the healthcare provider industry for close to three decades and have long been struck by how the industry is so slow to innovate and fast to imitate.
So it is no surprise that I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of Jeremy’s presentation, that we in healthcare, when it comes to innovation, have to get “better and faster.” A rapidly changing healthcare world demands a new level of customer intimacy and flexibility, as well as new disciplines that are currently rare in such a change-resistant industry.
One of Jeremy’s ideas that I found enlightening was his distinction between senior leaders as “farmers” or “hunters.” Farmers focus on:
- Replicating the success of last year’s crop
- Reducing variability
- Refining/optimizing the formula and gleaning from the success models of others
Hunters, on the other hand:
- Are driven to look for new opportunity
- Are flexible and motivated enough to pursue it where it can be found
Most senior healthcare leaders I have encountered fall into the “Farmer” category. Changing times demand a change in how we succeed moving forward in a new and uncertain world. I believe that focusing only on replicating last year’s practices will not lead us to the change necessary to succeed in this new world.
In short, we need more hunters.
Enter the marketers.
What can we do as marketing leaders to help drive innovation? We need to be pragmatic and unrelenting:
- It will be very difficult to turn people who have been farmers their entire lives into hunters. So, gravitate to senior leaders who are hunters or those with hunter-like tendencies. They need to be your standard bearers and partners.
- Look for unmet or under-satisfied needs or aspirations. They are out there. In healthcare, many consumers think we are more focused on meeting our organizational needs than theirs. Looking more closely at their attitudes, wants and needs can unlock a gold mine of opportunities. And, in the process, they will view us as more empathetic and responsive.
- Start small. Especially if your organization has a dearth of hunters, don’t expect senior leadership to buy into wholesale change. This is where rapid prototyping comes in. I believe our greatest long-term competitors won’t be other systems with their own innovation challenges, but newcomers that are hunters by nature and willing to try, learn and modify.
- Use data to reduce the mystery and quantify the risks and rewards.
- Avoid the temptation to innovate by imitating others. While an innovation originated elsewhere which is not currently in your market will be an innovation in your market, try to instill the idea that you must respond uniquely based upon the need/opportunity you have found and your specific response, to establish this new discipline.
- Reinforce that doing nothing or “the same old thing but harder” will not win the day.
- Jeremy’s presentation made me think of the curious case of the frog and the pot of water. A frog left in a pot of water that is slowly heated to a boil will not have enough sense to jump out of the water before it boils to death because the change (and threat) is gradual.
It strikes me that, if we continue with “more of what we are doing today but harder” thinking, I fear that one day we will find that others have innovated around us and that we didn’t wise up until it was too late to jump out of the boiling water.
BVK’s healthcare work reflects decades of experience working with clients as they navigate innovation and change in the industry. Check out some of the work we’ve done for our healthcare industry clients here.