Tim Kastelle developed The Innovation Matrix (Figure 1). This matrix, like many we have seen come out of the consulting world, features the coveted top, right box. But to be fair, it’s not always appropriate to strive for this. In pharma, we certainly do not all need to be Googles and Apples. But we do need to be good at executing ideas and getting them to spread.


This is why I like this matrix so much. It is designed to help us think more realistically about—and be more successful in—the process of improving our innovation performance, by illustrating it not as one big leap, but a journey of many steps. One of the key insights from The Innovation Matrix is that Innovation Commitment and Innovation Competence do not increase together in lockstep. It is possible for firms to improve along one dimension without seeing any difference in the other.

Pharma’s Innovation Goal

The table has two increasing dimensions. Across the horizontal axis there is increasing commitment to innovation. Innovation Commitment reflects the structures that are put in place to support the innovation process. It generally comes from management—so it is more of a top-down approach to generating innovation. This can include things such as talking about how innovation is important, including it as a core value, putting in systems to support and improve innovation, and explicitly earmarking time, money and other resources to innovation. Going up the vertical axis shows an increase in Innovation Competence—mainly the ability to generate and successfully execute new ideas.

Many firms in our industry would judge themselves somewhere in the “Bewildered” or “Dabbling in Digital” quadrants. Those firms that are “Dabbling” are starting to talk about the importance of innovation, and this is often the first step that organizations take in trying to improve innovation competency. While the “Bewildered” label may be a bit misleading, making it sound like firms are just confused and frustrated, the key point is that while there is a high level of leadership commitment to innovation—potentially official innovation programs and dedicated time and resources—they struggle to execute ideas. Frankly, a good goal for pharma is to get to the “Disciplined” quadrant, in which firms have some structure in place to support innovation and are getting better at doing it. This is the baseline level of innovation needed to stay in the game, so to speak, over the long run.

I get it. In pharma, where we are used to having a low tolerance for risk, we can’t help it—we want everything to be perfect. But when it comes to executing innovative programs, perfect is the opposite of done, as “they” say. Culturally, it is a challenge for us to accept going to market with something that is “good enough,” so that we can test, gain some learnings from it and iterate. (Ideally, followed by share the best practices and scale!)

Encouraging Innovation at Your Company

At my company, we have a formal innovation program that is coordinated and funded by the Digital Center of Excellence (DCoE). Essentially, brand teams and other groups across the organization can “pitch” the DCoE, and if the idea meets certain criteria, it may get important support including budget and possibly even a resource that has some subject matter expertise in the platform, channel, media, technology or whatever the innovation idea may entail.

For these innovation projects specifically, in which speed to market and gaining learnings that can be applied broadly are part of the success factors, we have adopted a tenant from the software development world known as Minimally Viable Product, or MVP. Under the MVP school of thought, the idea is that we are not building cathedrals, but beautiful dog houses! This philosophy helps us favor lean, quick work and endorse the idea that the work is never really “done” as we iterate and optimize. This helps us embrace time, financial and resource constraints.

Another area in which we are changing the way we coach is in how we talk about failure. Sometimes when you are trying something new, you may not know ahead of time how to make it successful. This is what makes failure an inherent part of innovation, and what differentiates it from a mistake, which happens when you do something wrong—even though you knew the right way to do it. However, if you don’t learn from your failures and own them, you do risk mistakes being committed over and over again.

Celebrate and Reward Failure

We encourage our business partners who did not see the results they were hoping for to shout about it from the mountain top, so to speak—even though it may be human nature to try and avoid talking about something that didn’t yield the desired results. We feel so strongly about showcasing the failures, in fact, that we created a Digital Excellence Award category just for these projects. But that’s not all—we have a broad range of approaches for recognizing those individuals that demonstrate a desire to push the envelope and re-imagine how we get things done. Rewarding innovative thinking and behavior is a critical component of fostering, establishing, reinforcing and sustaining a culture of innovation!

As much as having a formal innovation program helps to move a firm on Kastelle’s Innovation Matrix, innovation should be part of everyday activities, not just special projects. Anything can be re-imagined. Remember to ask yourself: How you would do something if you were starting it from scratch today at a brand new company? What would your expectations be as a customer? Would your access programs be fax based? Would your websites be desktop-friendly only? Would your Medical Information Center phone number be the only way customers could reach you? And most importantly, listen to your users and let user feedback drive the direction.

With leadership commitment to enhancing the capabilities of the organization, a disciplined focus on speed to market, formalized measurement plans and feedback loops, and a system to share learnings, pharma companies will be able to move in the Matrix to a place in which a culture of innovation can be sparked, scaled and sustained.

  • Lisa Flaiz

    Lisa Flaiz is Group Product Director, Digital Marketing at Janssen. Lisa has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare marketing space. In her role at Janssen in the Digital Center of Excellence, Lisa helps to lead the overall digital strategy across the organization with a particular focus in customer engagement. She also helps to create standard policies and processes around emerging channels.


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