Inspiring, Supporting, and Sustaining Innovation in Your Organization

With innovation front, center, and needed in today’s pharma/healthcare industry more than at any other time, PM360 asked 12 industry experts how they work within their organizations to achieve excellence or find just the right thing to push the industry forward. To that end, we asked the following questions:

  • What’s your view on inspiration as the basis of innovation? How do you inspire your teams to think outside the box? In your industry sector, what does that inspiration typically look like? What do you encourage your teams to look at to spark innovation in terms of collaboration with clinical trials, researchers, and doctors?
  • What kind of support does your organization provide to help teams elevate their insights and ideas into the stuff of innovation—such as brainstorming, disease-state education, or various technologies—and what kind of support do you think could be additionally offered? What do you find works best in supporting teams—what do they need or seek? Are there pitfalls that can be avoided?
  • Many of our organizational/team leaders have found ways not only to innovate, but also methods to sustain that innovation over the long haul. What leadership qualities does it take to accomplish this? Do you, and how do you collaborate with organizations/groups/vendors/suppliers to uncover the areas in which innovation can be sustained?
  • What types of innovation have your teams/organizations achieved and what were some of the steps you took to get there?

Jay Carter

I know that it might sound trite, but the core of innovation is the proverbial concept that iron sharpens iron. Putting high-quality people in an environment where collaboration is encouraged and where the desired output is always to do things “better” results in consistent innovation.

There are many organizational tools you can use to harness this innovation—they tend to be practical and even obvious. The organizational challenge in implementing them is in getting egos out of the way. Here are a few that we harness on a regular basis:

  • The team that creates an idea is rewarded for creating it. The team that executes the idea is also rewarded for excellence in implementation. In the creative world, having a culture where you don’t execute your own concept is a brave new world, but we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.
  • Select and grow people based upon simple criteria. Mine are threefold: Integrity; it is essential in every business; intellect—not grades, but evidence of an inquisitive mind and a desire to learn; and finally, ambition in the context of a team. I think that this last quality is the most important for innovation. People add value because they believe that the team “winning” is the best outcome. I find that our Millennials excel at ambition in the context of team.
  • Encourage boldness in problem solving. The best ideas are those that break the mold. Repeat daily.

Frank Trudo

Respiratory disease is one of AstraZeneca’s main therapy areas, and each day, we work to provide innovative treatment options for people living with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The ability to provide new treatment options for patients and improve their quality of life is what motivates our team to innovate, think outside the box, and push the boundaries of science.

We recently launched the e-asthma campaign, as well as a suite of online resources, to educate asthma patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals about the complexity of asthma, and encourage them to take action to ensure proper diagnosis and a more personalized treatment approach. This is a great example of innovative work that reinforces our team’s commitment to transforming the status quo of respiratory care.

Our main goal is to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. We’ve been addressing unmet needs in respiratory through medical innovations for more than 40 years, and we’re not slowing down.

There are currently 20 medicines in our respiratory R&D pipeline, and we are continually exploring new methods to advance care for patients with respiratory disease. We want to provide people with innovative treatment options that meet their individual needs, and we do this through innovation, patient assistance, and global partnerships.

For instance, we’re using new advancements, like co-suspension technology, to enable consistent delivery of one or more different medicines in a single device, and investigating biologics that potentially deliver targeted treatments to patients. We’re utilizing programs to help patients adhere to treatments and doctor recommendations; and leveraging global partnerships with the COPD Foundation, Adherium, and CHEST Foundation to pioneer research, technology, and awareness.

Matt Giambrone

At Trinity, our inspiration comes from our vision, values, and culture. The terms “transformation” and “innovation” in healthcare are central to the overall Trinity Partners vision. Our values articulate the importance of “passion,” “collaboration,” and “intellectual curiosity.” Our culture is based on who we hire—we want not only intelligent people, but also those who think critically and are willing to push for change.

We actively encourage our staff to do things that they think are innovative. We have a policy called “Inno-NOW” that allows our staff to log a certain percentage of their time towards innovation (no questions asked). Additionally, we encourage grassroots proposals from anyone for any type of idea. Celebrating examples of individuals doing this has served as a way for us to recognize their efforts and incentivize others. We not only innovate internally but also incorporate this mentality into our work with biopharma and med device companies. For example, when conducting research with physicians and patients we are always looking to uncover not just surface-level issues that matter to patients, but the hidden unmet needs that require reading between the lines. This inspires us to recommend innovative ideas to our clients.

We also invest in multiple dimensions of innovation. The first dimension is external-Focused Innovation, meaning it adds value to our clients. For example, we developed an offering called QuickQuant that enables our clients to quickly integrate market insights into M&A decisions. We invest in internal innovations as well, which make us more effective operationally and more insightful.

To get here we had to do three things. First, we had to make innovation a strategic priority and corporate objective. Our Managing Partner receives monthly updates on innovation. We then had to provide dedicated resources to the innovation function for prioritizing and managing key innovation projects, and finally, we employ best practices to achieve our goals (i.e., our versions of brainstorming, business canvases).

Greg Flynn

I work under a philosophy based on the aggregation of marginal gain. As a result, I don’t think innovation necessarily comes from just one big idea, but rather it is about making the smallest things even better. Then it’s the aggregation of those small things that create a big change in the way we operate in an organization. Too often we think of innovation as “game-changing”—that we have to disrupt the market and completely reinvent what we do. In so doing, we often overlook improving the small day-to-day processes and how we can innovate within our respective roles to make us more efficient and effective, ultimately delivering a better customer service experience in which we support our patients in a more caring manner.

We developed an innovative Patient Solutions business, which is particularly noteworthy for its uniqueness in the industry. When a patient is prescribed a specialty medicine, pharma often outsources the patient support program to us to design a program relevant to that patient group. To accomplish this, we developed an innovative process to identify and segment patients based on adherence risk, drawing upon an assessment of their lifestyle. Once identified and segmented, we then determine the best way to communicate with those patients based on the specific patient’s style. We develop multichannel solutions with tailored communications based on whether they prefer to get their information face-to-face, via a visit in a home setting by a nurse, by a phone call or text, or on the internet.

And now we are drawing upon behavioral psychology training materials to make sure we are communicating the right messages specifically tailored to the patients so they are more likely to adhere to their medication, resulting in better quality of life and better outcomes for that treatment.

Mike Marett

I believe that inspiration fuels and fosters innovation. At Confideo, we draw inspiration from those we work with: Our customers, partners, and colleagues, who encourage us to push boundaries and creatively unlock innovative new strategies, tactics, and technologies. We are equally motivated by patients, medical professionals, industry entrepreneurs, and innovation advocates who passionately pursue progressive new ideas.

In effect, we are inspired by possibility, driven by people, and grateful to work in an industry ripe and ready to embrace disruptive innovation. It’s with this knowledge that I encourage our team to pursue new technologies and commercialize new products and strategies to create meaningful and measurable value for stakeholders. During the next few years, as healthcare organizations face unprecedented challenges to improve outcomes, bolster quality, deepen education, increase access, and lower waste, innovation will be the central catalyst for accelerating positive change.

At the same time, advances in digital technologies are creating tremendous new possibilities and opportunities across our industry, from trials to therapy, to marketing and promotion. I believe that those who recognize, adopt, and implement innovation will prosper and advance, while those who ignore it will suffer.

With this in mind, our business embraces the evolving technology landscape, bringing a collection of cutting-edge marketing tools, technologies, and platforms to fruition. Implementation comes with challenges, but by pairing unwavering advocacy with compelling data, and teaming up with like-minded customers, we have found success. For us, the opportunity is massive, so we passionately invest, remain optimistic, fanatically measure, repeat, and evolve. Staying innovative is not simple, but with the stakes high and the impact massive, we are motivated in our pursuit. Game on.

Annemarie Crivelli

The basis of inspiration can vary—there isn’t a cut and dry recipe to follow when inspiring teams because it differs based on the audience, environment, and more. In my experience inspiration bubbles up when you least expect it.

When trying to engineer inspiration, I’ve found it is best fostered in a trusted team environment when one bright idea ignites creative thinking. At Cambridge BioMarketing, we embrace this type of culture via collaboration and iterative brainstorming. We believe there is value in bringing together folks from all different disciplines in a room to share experiences and insights to collectively garner truly groundbreaking ideas.

As rare disease marketers, we focus on messaging for healthcare providers and patient populations with ages that range from young to elderly. Keeping this vast audience in mind means that each piece of content we create needs to be unique. As a result, we constantly need to innovate in order to deliver the right message via the right medium.

To foster inspiration, we encourage folks to listen closely to the patients to truly understand their experience from pre-diagnosis to treatment. This level of insight is what will spark that innovative idea and ultimately help patients in their journey and the physicians that care for them.

Brandon Ashcraft

Innovating requires inspiration. My moments of purest inspiration generally happen upon waking or in the shower when, to an uncensored mind, ideas or answers to nagging questions more readily present themselves. Once at the office, when the rigors of the day commence, my inspiration comes from the satisfaction I get in helping others to achieve their goals, of removing barriers and facilitating growth through mutual problem solving.

At Razorfish Health, we employ numerous, often overlapping tactics to stimulate thinking and promote innovation. Our Innovation Leadership Team (ILT) acts as a clearinghouse for projects with measureable industry, internal, and/or client impact. We take measures to foster a culture of “everyday innovation” through talks, showcases, and actual product development. We’re trained to look for patterns in what our customers seek. When similar needs arise, the question becomes, “Is there a better/faster way to do this?” For example, after hearing about three opportunities to create patient portals, my senior architect suggested the idea of Patient Portal as a Service. Another tactic we employ to encourage inspiration is partnership. For instance, my marketing operations director routinely engages with vendors to ensure we understand the latest advances in the marketplace, and as part of Publicis Health, our agency regularly engages with the resources afforded us from being among a broad network of agency partners.

While we get our inspiration from many sources, it is only a start—the seed. Successful innovation also requires executive sponsorship, the ability to plan and evaluate, and a thirst for knowledge and ability to educate each other. The final, most important ingredient, is empathy. Our choices are rooted in a deep understanding of the needs and motivations of the users of our creations. As a healthcare agency, our primary goal is to positively impact behavior at the point of care. Having empathy helps facilitate this. Indeed, empathy is a key catalyst not only for our innovations, but also the inspiration that induces them.

Collette Douaihy

Some principles that help us to inspire great work at Digitas include these ideas:

  • The sky’s the limit. Never start a project thinking “It has to be this” or “It can’t be that.” Clients in healthcare have seen that big ideas can break through and are more and more comfortable when smart ideas stretch the boundaries. This is the time for creatives at healthcare agencies to show the world what we’re made of.
  • Look at everything that’s been done in the category—then do the opposite.Rules were made to be broken. So, once you’ve seen how everyone else does it, find inspiration outside the category.
  • Listen to your audience, but not too much.We’ve all watched focus groups in which interviewees latch onto the safe, straightforward ideas that have been done before. If there’s an idea that gets a rise out of the group—good or bad—it’s worth exploring further.
  • Get out of the office.Go find new inspiration to help clear your head. Museums, art installations, maker spaces—heck, even doctor’s offices—can offer a fresh spark.
  • Fire up your clients early. Bring them in early and don’t be afraid to show them how the “sausage gets made.” It shows them that you’re passionate about an idea and that you see them as a collaborator. When they feel like they’re in the process with you, they’ll push to make the work even better.

Keith Liu

Inspiration is the fuel for innovation. Our inspiration at Klick is often triggered by phrases, such as “the status quo,” “that’s how it’s always been,” and “this is best practice.” So we’re constantly looking at “commonly accepted” processes, products, and systems to determine if they can and/or should be disrupted. We have assembled a team from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to connect the dots and produce novel solutions for unmet needs—considering the ability to translate technologies and techniques from one use case to new ones in healthcare, as well as employing techniques in mathematics, engineering, and user experience design to help re-frame and solve for challenges. Lastly, our modus operandi is grounded in evidence-based methodologies.

Validate Your Innovations

Our job is not concluded until we have validated that our innovation does what it should, much like clinical trials. For example, when Dr. John Brownstein observed that traditional non-emergency medical transportation was woefully inadequate at meeting the basic needs of many patients, we worked with him to create Circulation, a state-of-the-art on-demand transportation platform that is eliminating the pain points of healthcare transportation and is providing patients and healthcare institutions with a superior offering.

To further innovation, we have established a culture of continuous curiosity and learning and we work hard to engender a fearless quality in our people. We believe failure in the context of exploration and experimentation should be valued and not feared. We established Klick Labs for that reason. It serves as a hub that any team member, partner, or client can leverage to evolve their insights and ideas into innovation. Our SymPulse Tele-Empathy Device was born out of this culture of innovation. We identified an unmet need in the field of individualized empathy. Then through experimentation, iteration, and validation, we developed a proven system to increase physician and caregiver empathy and ultimately improve quality of care.

Ross Toohey

It’s exceptionally rare to stumble upon innovative thinking that has developed accidentally or organically within a modern organization. Organizational cultures of innovation are generally the product of careful forethought and grooming. Unfortunately, many of the widely deployed corporate mechanisms designed to foster growth and learning (e.g., executive rotations and goals-based performance reviews) have the potential to actually discourage innovative thinking by rewarding conservatism, compartmentalization, and risk aversion.

Innovation is a direct product of creativity. And creativity is an extremely fragile construct in a business environment. This is especially the case in an agency environment, where ideas are often evaluated subjectively. Organizations that fail to manage this balance effectively lack the cultural ingredients for innovation.

At 2e, we’ve identified a direct correlation between entrepreneurial mindset and powerful, breakthrough thinking. We encourage constructive risk-taking within our agency by providing our staff opportunities to stretch and fail without exposure to career or organizational risk.

For example, we hold Idea Sprints throughout the year, at which we’ll split into small teams (no more than five people) and “launch” digital health companies that solve specified patient needs. The trick is to give simple parameters (the idea must be self-funding, legally viable, etc.) and an extremely limited timeframe (we give our teams no more than 45 minutes to round out their idea). The teams then regroup and pitch their ideas to the entire company for feedback. Often, nuggets of an idea will find their way to client work. Even if none of the ideas see the light of day, Idea Sprints are a great way to mix things up and encourage teams to experiment with new styles of thinking.

Matthew Douglass

Sustained, long-term, genuine innovation in any organization relies on the team’s openness and willingness to create something novel. Equally important, truly meaningful innovation requires an underlying corporate culture of curiosity and humility that prioritizes learning over knowing. It’s ultimately a rather simple formula: The more an organization’s culture encourages iteration, testing, and improvements via incorporating customer feedback, the more innovation will emerge.

At Practice Fusion, innovation has been an integral part of our DNA since day 1, when we launched in 2007 as one of the first fully cloud-based electronic health record (EHR) solutions for physicians. Over the last 10 years, we’ve built our business on the foundation of our mission and core values, which include an explicit challenge for all of our team members to innovate: “Do Extraordinary Things.” Our other core values contribute to our culture of openness and supporting each other as well: “First, Listen to the Customer,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Embrace the Team,” “Give Back,” and “Be Resilient.”

These core values are not just words on the walls of our headquarters. They are guiding principles to which we all hold each other accountable as we make big strategic decisions and decide on new candidates to join our teams. For instance, at Practice Fusion, for the past seven years we’ve held a once-a-quarter Hack Day where our software development teams can work on anything they want in relation to our EHR or technology processes.

In 2016, our executive management team explicitly devoted an entire week to innovation, followed by a demo day in front of the whole company. Many of these features were then deployed to our customers over the next few months. So in less than a quarter, innovation went from whiteboard ideation to real physician and patient impact in the exam room.

Eric Brody

At Trajectory, innovation doesn’t come in the form of incubators, labs, or special teams—nor is it in the form of game-changing or transformative ideas. While it’s nothing this monumental, our form of innovation fosters bonds, strengthens brands, and drives business—and all of our employees play an important role. Because in our agency, innovation is incremental. It’s about identifying and initiating a number of smaller ideas to help our client’s brands rise above the noise and deliver customer value beyond their competitors.

We believe seven characteristics help brands win the battle for share of mind and market. These are the levers we push and pull to drive everyday innovation that builds brand momentum: 1) Purpose-Led; 2) Simple; 3) Authentic; 4) Dynamic; 5) Aligned; 6) Emotional Pull; and 7) Community.

But one over-riding characteristic sits above all others—inspired people—and they need to pervade any agency setting out to deliver innovation. Everyone needs to have a distaste for the status quo—and must be empowered to help change it. If these ingredients are missing, innovation doesn’t happen. So, creating an environment in which the change agent mindset results in behavior is critical to move customers, brands, and businesses forward.

So, where do we find inspiration? First, we look to people. What makes them work, and how can we help? Next, the market: What are the dynamics of our client’s market? Then, we look to the world for inspiration—using our brand lens to unearth the unique value we can deliver and bring it all to life.

In our multifaceted approach to innovation, these four innately inspiring lenses, combined with the seven characteristics above, all breathe life into the brands we work with—providing the strength, momentum, and energy to help them win share of mind and share of market.


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