The Mölnlycke O.R. blog
Watching the detectives: Innovation as afterthought
Mölnlycke Health Care Innovation and Concept Director, Tove Weigel, contends that innovation is less huge, explosive change and more detective work.
What company in any industry does not push the idea of this elusive concept – “innovation”?
By itself, “innovation” is impossible to do. It’s intangible and kind of like the classic chicken-and-egg, which-came-first problem. We are talking about something, planning for it, brainstorming around it, when in fact we don’t know yet what it will be. We don’t know that something is an innovation until it has already become that – after the fact. “Innovation” is then a process by which ideas can become projects and come to life, and can only be declared as innovation once the legwork, which I would compare to detective work, is done.
In my experience, professionals in the field are more like detectives on the case, and behind the “innovation” buzzword is a tremendous amount of detective work that boils down to gathering and exploring customer insight.
Innovation: Following the clues
While building a corporate culture that tries to foster innovation, activity is really driven by identifying unmet or unknown customer needs by diving into customer insight. Innovation, apart from being misinterpreted as an idea rather than an outcome, is also often misunderstood in many companies as purely R&D or marketing-owned activity. But in reality, everything leading up to eventual innovation is the result of active, cross-functional sleuthing, gathering and taking apart clues and evidence to uncover customer needs. This process can be nebulous, requiring an ability to ask questions that lead to more and less obvious questions to look for questions and answers that are not actually put on the table. A lot of reading between the lines and finding out what is not being said.
Customer insight and the belief that even small, incremental ideas can also be innovations, reside at the heart of innovation. It’s possible that a customer needs something that s/he does not necessarily realize, and it might be a small thing that makes a big difference to his or her work. These discoveries are not headline-news exciting, but that is the fascinating part about innovation – you never really know where something might come up that is really game changing. The process of getting there is not always viewed as part of the innovation, but innovation is really the final destination in the journey – long after the detective has “solved” the case, the case still has to go to trial and be judged. Whether something is a successful innovation – or perceived as “innovation” at all – is a little bit like that – judged in hindsight.
In the end, innovations often come to life based on a long, iterative process informed by our work to really know our customers, what they do and why. We do this in healthcare/medical devices by following them and following the patient journey. This is our detective work, which aims to anticipate what is needed today and what will be needed tomorrow – and ultimately delivering on these needs. That is the impetus behind what we do. Innovation is, while wonderful, almost an afterthought.