Disruptive Sparks of Innovation
Today, the en vogue and sexy term in pharma, healthcare, and technology is “disrupt”. Being “disruptive” will definitely help us move from the status quo of inefficient processes, expensive systems, under utilization of analytics to improve the quality of care and ultimately deliver patient outcomes.
But, the reality is that being disruptive means that there is something (eg a project or initiative) pushing against a pre-existing system and causing friction. And, friction causes heat. Heat causes fires. Fires, when uncontrolled, burn down houses and institutions. Just think of the video coverage of wild fires and it is easy to comprehend why most organizations enable and reward their employees to say ‘no’ to disruption, rather than ‘yes’.
To avoid wild fires organizations do a very good job creating sub-zero conditions that inhibit any kind of molecular reactions that may trigger a spark. If you have ever tried to get support from your leadership or an organization to do something that is not the status quo, then you’ve probably felt the chill of a sub-zero environment: paperwork, committees, paperwork, 1:1 meetings, return on investment (ROI) thresholds, review boards, etc… all are organizational tactics built to protect the organization and inhibit the creation of a spark.
Do not lose hope. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but when you know that you have one that will really make a difference, do something about it. And, this is what you need to do to create a warm pocket within your organization that will not only allow for a controlled spark of innovation, but also support a small flame to show people the possibilities of your ‘big idea’.
1. Earn the right to create the spark
Perform above expectations. No one is going to support someone who is unable to successful execute on their existing job and responsibilities. You have to figure out how to deliver 150% in your current role. Organizations and leaders are more likely to support zany and out-of-the-box ideas when it comes from an employee that has a solid performance track record.
2. Find an executive sponsor
You need someone to create a protective shield, also known as “cover”, for you and your idea. The sponsor needs to have sufficient power and credibility within your organization to be granted the freedom to support and advocate for ‘special projects.’ Just realize that, by supporting you, this person is extending their professional brand to you. If you succeed, they succeed. If you fail, then their reputation may be tarnished or negatively effected. Respect what this relationship means to you both.
3. Build an extended team of resources that include domain experts that advocate for the idea
Check the ego at the door. Know your limitations and seek out and befriend the people that will be able to help you tackle the toughest bits and pieces of the project. Your idea will only be executed if you get support from peers that are the domain experts. In most cases, you will not be able to secure them as full time resources, but you need to be able to call on them and tap their expertise. Make sure that you have access to true experts in public policy, privacy, legal (eg intellectual property), and regulatory. If you project goes wonky on any one of these items, your small flame could quickly turn into a wild fire and your ‘big idea’ turns into a career limiting opportunity.
4. Be honest and transparent
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. There will be days where you will not want to type another email or speak to another person. When you are working on projects and initiatives that ‘no one has ever done before’, you need to make sure that you are staying connected with the real world – your sponsor and your extended network of resources. Plus, it is in your idea’s best interest for you to invest in building the bridges to the organization and continue to generate support and advocacy. Adhere to your company’s communications policies, but get the word out internally and externally … the more that you share, the more likely your project will attract others that are interested in helping you make it succeed.
5. Take care of yourself
You’ve worked for months on the ‘big idea’ and you’ve hit umpteen walls and hurdles. The pressure is almost unbearable. You are burnt out and want to call it quits… but you are so close…. So, TAKE A BREAK. You need to get away from the mayhem. Go off the grid. Shut down the electronics. Or, at least don’t check work email. Do something that you love to do. Even if it is just for a half day, you need time to clear the brain. This mini-mental vacation will help you recharge your batteries, focus, and get back on task.
Navigating organization dynamics is always a challenge, especially when you want to change the status quo. However, following these five steps will not only help you to initiate a spark and small flame, in time you will generate a larger and more sustainable fire that is welcomed and encouraged by the organization.
You can do it!