In my last blog post, I explored three myths about innovation in clinical research and how they may be holding us back from turning good ideas into new approaches. Now I want to talk about a few practical strategies that individuals can use to boldly bring ideas to life within their company.
Many people think innovation occurs outside of the confines of a typical workday, in moments of clarity while in pursuit of passion projects. But that’s not really how it always works. Some of the best ideas are often solutions to challenges that come from the people working in that environment every day. Bringing your innovation to life can be achieved, but takes practical work beyond the idea to progress forward within an organization.
Like writing a novel or deciding to run a marathon, having the idea is only the first (and arguably easiest) step. Here’s what you need to do next.
- Sell your business case. The biggest challenge innovators run into is focusing entirely on “the idea,” but failing to build a clear business case around it. If a business is going to invest or take a risk on a new solution, investors (your stakeholders) need to understand what it is, who it’s for, why it could be successful, what are the risks and what is the return on investment (ROI) for the company. Even if your projected results aren’t specifically financial (i.e. you are going to save time, minimize risk, or improve customer satisfaction), you still need to quantify the projected positive impacts with some sense of financial impact. Utilizing a business plan template and understanding how to sell the value of your idea is critical to make innovation happen.
- Pilot with a plan to scale. A classic phase in the innovation process is the pilot project. Maybe you roll it out in a small instance, test it with a single customer, or target a local market. It’s a great way to see if an idea is marketable and generate ROI data without putting too many resources behind it. But what’s the next step? Even the best innovation will stall if it doesn’t have a long term strategy and roadmap behind it from the start. While stakeholders love to see the results of a pilot project, they won’t have the confidence to invest and move the idea forward in an incremental way unless you can demonstrate a detailed plan to turn that pilot into a scalable, global solution.
- Target your stakeholders. Most of us work in teams and surround ourselves with people who have similar ideas and values. Limiting yourself to their feedback and buy-in will limit your ability to innovate with your idea. Before you can move forward with an innovation, you need to vet it with people who have a different perspective and will be brutally honest about whether your idea makes sense. Choosing advisors and influencers from different departments across the organization and with your external partners will not only ensure you are getting honest feedback, but can also help you break down barriers and overcome challenges. It is also important to note that some people will never be convinced your idea is a good one. Having a healthy balance of multiple stakeholders that like your idea and hate your idea usually means you are on the right track.
- Define success and identify the risks. Every project faces risks and innovation is no exception. Lack of money, failed technology and limited access to talent are just a few of the most common risks that can derail a good idea. Having a brief plan that details the risks involved and sets realistic expectations on your innovation’s goals is key to your success. Your plan should simply list the risks, detail how you are mitigating them in advance and detail the milestones you will periodically evaluate to confirm your desired progress. This plan is not a one-time plan, it is a living status report for you to manage as you move your innovation forward incrementally.
As you build this plan it is important to remember that failure is always a risk when it comes to innovation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your idea is dead. Establishing a series of gate reviews throughout the project, where you continuously make go/no-go decisions, ensures you won’t spend too much time and money chasing a version of your idea that can’t work. It will also give you the opportunity and resources to make incremental changes that can increase your long term odds of success.
Few great innovations come to fruition on the first try. Most of them are a result of trial and error, multiple designs and extensive lessons learned for the innovators involved. It can be a long and arduous journey, but it is worth it in the end when you finally see your great idea realized.