The word “innovation” has become synonymous with some of the most ground-breaking research and technologies our industry benefits from today. Innovation is now a required output in our companies and critical to the continued evolution of our business to bring needed treatments to patients faster. That being said, we still find a large number of potential innovators in clinical research being held back by their own misperceptions about how innovation happens.

As we consider innovation at this year’s DIA conference, I want to address some myths about innovation and offer some strategic ideas on how to practically move ideas to action within your research program or company. Let’s start with three (3) myths about innovation in clinical research that need to be overcome.

Myth #1: Innovation requires a giant leap forward
When people think about innovations, they are usually drawn to the major leaps forward. Examples like the moon landing, electricity or the iPhone may come to mind. The reality is that most innovations are not disruptive events and to assume they must be can have negative consequences on the creativity process. If a team believes the only needed innovation is a big innovation, they may overlook the incremental improvements that could lead to a positive result immediately and lead to a big innovation overtime.

An example of incremental innovation at work that many may overlook is the trash bag. Yes, I said trash bag, but let me explain. Take a look at the trash bag you use today. Do you remember more than 10 years ago when this household staple didn’t include conveniences like the draw string, flexible plastic and scented fragrances? These enhancements were not all rolled out at the same time or immediately. They were strategically developed and put on our store shelves over time until they became the new standard.

Myth #2: Innovation only happens by entrepreneurs
PWC’s innovation study showed that 93 percent of CEOs are looking for innovation to drive business growth, yet 81 percent worry that their organization does not know how to lead innovation in any meaningful way.

In productive and forward-thinking organizations, innovation should be everyone’s goal. Entrepreneurs are important in impacting changes in the marketplace, but equally so, intrapreneurs (entrepreneurs within organizations) are also moving innovations forward in their companies with positive results for the industry. I remember a few years ago when a colleague and I were thinking through a recruitment challenge a Quintiles’ customer partner approached us with. After working through the patient insights gathered from one of our patient communities (, we challenged ourselves to develop a new approach as the existing solutions were not advancing the study. Brainstorms, phone calls, a napkin sketch and several venti mochas later, we generated an innovative approach to move to pilot. After success with the pilot, the approach became a product that incrementally improved with each use. The solution is now a scaled, innovative approach helping our customers improve their probability of success in clinical development programs. If we had believed this myth, we would have not developed this important solution.

Myth #3: Innovation is all fun and ideas
The outcomes of successful innovations are really exciting and seeing your idea come to life is a fulfilling career moment. The reality is that moving innovation forward is full of challenges. The idea is only the first step and sometimes arguably the easiest step in the process. Creating innovation takes hard work, flexibility, grit, willingness to change direction, an ability to influence stakeholders and a resilience to the fear of failure. To be an innovator you have to be willing to fight for your idea and to be louder and more confident than the other voices in the room. Incremental innovation requires your idea to be clearly described, carefully planned and objectively measured to prove its value as it moves into action.

In a fast moving economy, companies that don’t innovate don’t survive. By harnessing the power of everyone in the organization and fostering a culture for incremental innovation, you can significantly increase the odds that the next big solution will emerge from your team.
Topics in this blog post: Biopharma, Collaboration, Innovation