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.
While recently being interviewed about innovation for the upcoming Mölnlycke Health Care magazine, 360, I was immersed in thinking about innovation. It is an elusive concept but one that is on the minds and lips of every company in every industry – even though “innovation” is often little more than a buzzword.
How does innovation move beyond buzzword?
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 something – after the fact. “Innovation” is then a process by which ideas come to life. Most of these innovations, as I explore in the 360 interview, come from digging into customer insights to find hidden or unmet customer needs. Doing this legwork is comparable to being a detective.
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: On the case, following the clues
If I have learned anything about innovation – it is collaborative, cross-functional – innovation rarely happens in a vacuum, on one’s own. In the 360 article, this is explained clearly, “Cross-functional teams are detectives laying a foundation upon which they can build a case. And that case may lead to an innovation which can make life easier for customers and patients.”
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. Instead, it is an investigative process requiring an ability to ask questions that lead to more and less obvious questions. What is not being said? The answers are the clues these detectives follow.
Customer insights are clues. It is 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. “Getting there” and the investigative process is not always viewed as part of the innovation, but innovation is the final destination in the journey. This final destination, somewhat surprisingly to those who repeat the word “innovation” without much substance behind it, only becomes clear long after the detective has “solved” the case. Whether something is a successful innovation – or perceived as “innovation” at all – is 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.