Innovation or Common Sense

One of my all time favorite articles, “The Innovator’s DNA” was in the December 2009 Harvard Business Review .  The authors reported on a study where they looked at the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs and surveyed 3500 other innovators to determine what habits make them stand apart from the rest of us that struggle in this area.  The results came down to five consistent habits that I would like to briefly let you think about in terms of pharmaceutical marketing.  Even if you don’t think you have a single innovative bone in your body, I bet you can do the following five things.

Innovators have a remarkable ability to associate, that is they can look at a situation in a very different environment and figure out how certain things they see there could help in their business.  Perhaps an immediate example of this is seen on a video clip that is well worth watching, on Richard Vanderveer’s Wednesday blog.  Watch the surgeon discuss how looking at the checklists used by the airlines improved surgical outcomes dramatically.  Unbelievable statistics.  Could the use of simple checklists or even the pit crew mentality, also discussed in the video, improve the way we work in marketing?

The second major habit innovators demonstrate is questioning.  They ask about everything.  Why do we do it that way?  Would it be better if we tried this?  What seems to work the best and what doesn’t work?  Why do we write brand plans?  Why are they so long?  Why do we forecast the way we forecast?  Why do we always get the forecast wrong if the process is so perfect?  Why is the marketing department broken up into teams?  I bet you could add a hundred more questions in the next five minutes.  Remind people that when you are asking a lot of questions you are not being a trouble maker, but rather an innovator!

Innovators do a lot of observing and just watching what happens in the real world.  In addition to doing traditional market research they would, for instance, go to a pharmacy and just watch what goes on at the counter.  How happy do people look after picking up their medicine?  Do they really understand what is going on?  How does the generic/brand thing really work?  How about sitting in a doctor’s office and watching reps come and go, just getting signatures at the front desk for their samples?  Innovators would go in blue jeans and sit around a busy clinic just observing.

The fourth habit is experimenting.  Try a bunch of things and see what works.  I know this sounds like heresy, but the key is that these things need to be set up as experiments.  Every unique thing you try needs to be a learning experiment.  The classic story of the marketing executive getting called into the CEO’s office after spending $50 million on a disastrous launch comes to mind.  When the marketing person asks if he or she is going to get fired the CEO responds, “Are you nuts, I just spent $50 million on your education”.  Each new experiment needs to build on the previous ones.

Finally, innovators are great at networking, but this is not what you first think about when you hear networking.  They will take their ideas to a wide variety of folks and ask what they think.  How can it be made better?  What flaws might there be in the idea?  The innovators are very eager to allow others to make their ideas even better.  They are seeking constant improvement.  How often in marketing do you see a good idea come out of one brand team that never gets discussed with other brand teams until after it is executed?  I worked in a company that had world-class consumer marketers, but we seldom asked them what they would do to improve our pharmaceutical marketing strategies.  Innovators work differently.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing our industry is a lack of innovation.  This is the most obvious on the R&D side, as we are struggling to come up with new drugs to replace the blockbusters going off patent.  I would also think that we are struggling with innovation on the sales and marketing side as well.  Real innovators would struggle through the regulatory, legal, internal barriers and all the other excuses we put up for our lack of innovation.  Think about the five habits and try them out.  You will be surprised how innovative you really are!  You see innovation, as shown in the surgeon’s video, is not always about the big, over the top ideas, but often is really all about common sense.  We all know the problem with common sense though, is that it is not so common, right?

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