Clarify Your Innovation Expectations

MARCH 15, 2015
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Whenever you work with or hire people, it is almost always a good idea to set and clarify expectations. For example, if you are appointing an advisory board for your startup, you should define the deliverables, timelines, and roles. Likewise, when you are working on a project, you should set SMART goals-

S - specific, significant, stretching

M - measurable, meaningful, motivational

A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T - time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

The same applies when you are leading an innovation initiative. You should be crystal clear about defining and setting expectations. And here's 3 big reasons why:

1. People have different understandings of innovation: Innovation has both a qualitative and quantitative component and occupies one of 4 boxes in the novelty-value matrix. Innovators need to understand where you want them to play.

Tinkerers: low novelty, low value

A solution looking for a problem: high novelty, low value

Go big or go home: High novelty, high value

Useful but no cigar: High novelty, low-medium value

2. It's hard to boil the ocean. In health care, for example, there are multiple ways to create value, but they basically come down to improving the patient and doctor experience of quality of care and service, reducing per capita costs, and improving population health. Of course, there are also business metrics that improve revenues, reduce costs, or capture market share. You also need to be specific about your strategic priorities—cancer care, the injured and aging brain, or renal disease—and specific what ideas will be rejected.

3. You need an innovation management system that is transparent. A suggestion box won't work. You have to explain to potential innovators not just what ideas will get consideration, but how and the steps you will take to solicit, vet, and choose ideas to test or implement and how the innovation process will work. There should be no doubt in the mind of potential innovators what happens next.

Innovation, like everything else, needs to be managed because freedom, creativity, and regulation are often in conflict when people are competing for scarce resources. Just because creativity is about serendipity, unpredictability, and happy accidents does not mean that your process should be.

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