Does the outside matter?

Does it matter?

Jobs, Musk, Bezos – modern day innovators who have truly offered a transformation to the way we live. The genius of Leonardo Da Vinci still impacts our modern lifestyle today, and innovation was pursued with such fervor that it approximated religion for him (more on how we can model innovation after Da Vinci in a future post).

What Da Vinci emulated so masterfully was his reliance on the external world around him to inspire his work. In How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Daywe are given illustrative detail as to how this innovation pioneer relied on making connections to fuel his systems-level thinking (see previous post on the power of connectivity here: The Connectivity of Meaningful Innovation). davinciprofWhen charged with innovating, the default for many is to internalize – reflect on what has been done, our performance, our objective and the path to that goal, evaluate our resources and self-analyze. Performing a SWOT analysis of sorts is integral in innovating (a good refresher here:, and it are those opportunities and threats, the outside environment, which is often forgotten when we embark on a journey to innovate. Da Vinci relied on his environment for education, inspiration, and awareness – it was his outside that inspired the inside, the environment that crafted his solutions for it.

In Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, Chesbrough writes that “companies must think beyond their products and move outside their own four walls to innovate.” This imperative to operate outside the boundaries of our environment, specifically in healthcare, is integral to a comprehensive innovation strategy; when we borrow perspectives from industries unlike our own, the opportunities for incremental growth and strategic expansion can be as impactful as they are unpredicted.

The commonalities between two seemingly dissimilar businesses, such as healthcare and advertising, or in Da Vinci’s operations, zoology and aviation, can only be realized when they are exposed to each other, brought into each others’ walls. “Open innovation,” as coined by Chesbrough, dictates that “a company should make greater use of external ideas in its business and allow its own ideas to go out to others to use in their businesses.” This can only be done by looking outside one’s own walls. A growing number of successful organizations demonstrate the power of welcoming in “the outsiders,” and opening an exchange of ideas, perspectives and lessons that spur innovation. It is worthwhile to note that many of these entities which have successfully innovated by seeking out the opinions of “the outsider” are not in the primary business of healthcare; healthcare technology and pharmaceuticals – yes – but when we consider hospitals and primary health service organizations, there is a paucity of open innovators as compared to other industries. Acknowledging that the dissimilarities of business operations between two industries – primary healthcare and concierge technology, for example -will reveal far more opportunities for synergy through innovation.

Do you let the outside in to supercharge your innovation? Next time we will be revisiting the value of cross-pollination, and explore some real-world examples of a phenomena only possible with open innovation.





Innovating from Teaching Within

withinWhere does innovation come from? Does it come from one person, from a group, from the outside, from consultancy? Can it be sought out or does it happen organically? Is it a combination of all of these, or does it even matter?

Looking beyond the walls of an organization for sources of innovation is not to be discouraged – in fact, some of the most novel value creation comes from innovation brought from the outside in. Creating a culture that encourages its members to seek outside opinion and nontraditional perspective can lend a source of creation that may otherwise never be achieved.

Looking outside alone and ignoring potential talent within, however, can come at a large detriment – the sources in an organization may not only hold keys to innovation, but also a wealth of teaching opportunities for each other. In the book “Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock, the notion of building a faculty from within is supported as a valuable source of innovation. Instead of looking outward to recruit teaching and training for an organization on how to innovate, for example, he writes that “the best teachers…are sitting right next to you” and that “in your organization, there are people who are expert on every facet of what you do, or at least expert enough that they can teach others.” When in pursuit of learning how to innovate for a specific problem or issue, there is benefit to having that insight come from an expert from within the organization, familiar with its culture and values, which only sets up for a more successful and accepted innovation.

Learning from each other in an organization poised for innovation offers a layer of experiential understanding that may not be achieved through third party consultants – and may open doors to opportunities that may otherwise never been developed. Through building a culture of internal expert teachers, Google created “Googler2Googler (G2G),” where employees would join to teach one another their unique skillsets and expert perspectives. Bock highlights a more creative and generative work environment of having this internal curriculum lead by experts from within. Among some of the innovative classes are MindBody Awareness, Presenting with Charisma, and content teaching fire breathing or tightrope walking. While the output of these classes may not produce fire breathing, self-aware expert orators, it exemplifies the powerful innovations that can be bred from within an organization.

It would be hard to imagine that Google would have ever sought an outside consultant to talk about the history of the bicycle (another topic through G2G), but the creativity and perspective-shifting mindset generated from this certainly may have led to truly novel innovation. Most every organization has a wealth of experts inside their walls – utilizing this from within to teach each other is a valuable adjunct to breaking down walls to embrace the connectivity that is innovation.


Bock, Laszlo. Work Rules!: insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. New York: Hachete Book Group, 2015.

The Connectivity of Meaningful Innovation


In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson write about the “long zoom.” He references that innovation occurs at a much larger level than the microscopic details of most entities. For example, attempting to understand the mechanism of oxygenation of blood at the level of the red blood cell alone is incredibly limiting; without taking into account other connections, such as the gases in the blood, the circulatory system itself, the pulmonary system, the environment in which the human is breathing, and so on, the scope of understanding is vastly short-changed.

This same concept of taking the long view when considering how innovation works at an organization level applies. Departmentalizing innovation to an individual with one operation, and analyzing it in the context of its effects on the organization as a whole, distorts the global view and impact innovation can hold on an organization. What can result is a competitive pitting of different arms of an organization against each other – “the fiscal conservative” initiatives versus “the adventurous creatives,” for example.

Johnson uses competition as an opportunity to appreciate innovation with a long view perspective. For example, most economics theorems state that competition between entities creates innovation in that novel ideas are generated to produce the winning edge; competition begets competition. Taking a big step back and looking at this with a broader scope, it may in fact be that open-mindedness and connectivity create a more meaningful type of innovation. While competition between forces demands that a new process be created in order for one for to “win,” it is naturally segregating. The competing entities may benefit from their own internal idea generation and innovations, but they are kept within their walls in order to provide a competitive edge. In fact, this pattern of “internalized” thought-processing can occur within parts of the same organization. The result? A thwarted potential for innovation.

The alternative? Relax the barriers set forth by competition to cultivate a more valuable, impactful innovation that cross boundaries. Although two firms/organizations/cultures may be competing, there are still live connections – connections in the environment, in the macrocosm within which they operate. Innovating across boundaries, learning from each other’s failures, creating environments that bring in non-traditional ideas into the common marketplace, and grading risk – these are ways we can harness the connectivity that is innovation.

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Riverhead, NY: 2010

One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. It is, as common people say, so `upsetting;` it makes you think that, after all, your favourite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded; it is certain that till now there was no place allotted in your mind to the new and startling inhabitant, and now that it has conquered an entrance you do not at once see which of your old ideas it will or will not turn out, with which of them it can he reconciled, and with which it is at essential enmity. Naturally, therefore, common men hate a new idea, and are disposed more or less to ill-treat the original man who brings it.

Physics and Politics, by Walter Bagehot

The Innovation Wet Blanket


Imagine if Gutenberg allowed the wet blanket of convention to stifle his innovation…


1540s, “introduce as new,” from Latin innovatus, past participle of innovare “to renew, restore; to change,” from in- “into” + novus “new”. Meaning “make changes in something established” is from 1590s. 

Inherent in innovation is the assumption that there will be resistance to change, to the new. Embarking on an innovation effort should come with the understanding, and acceptance, that with “introducing the new” there will always be the established standards trying to curtail those efforts. For over 500 years, innovation has experienced a cyclical “idea-implementation” shelf-life. The new ideas are generated, usually as a response to dissatisfaction with the current standards, and grand, sometimes grandiose, schemes are drafted to bring about these ideas. All too frequently, these often well-intended ideas reach paralysis, never being implemented; the excitement and ignition of the innovative idea is extinguished by the wet blanket of established mediocrity. 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (“Innovation: the classic traps, HBR Nov. 2006) describes these wet blankets as strategic mistakes made by the organization. For example, investing only in the “big ideas” that take center stage mean that the smaller ideas get rejected; as a result, with the large amount of resources needed to implement the big ideas, the “small” ideas get extinguished and potential value is lost. Not infrequently, these big ideas which demand the lion’s share of resources shunt away from supporting the smaller innovations, and these big ideas fail. This results in a deficit of innovation initiatives, and missed opportunity for value. Instead, organizations need to remove the wet blanket on the smaller ideas, and take a gamble on a larger number of them. Another common wet blanket to recognize is the “process-strangling” of innovations with the red-tape and standardizations of the organization’s usual practice. Subjecting innovation to the same strict guidelines of the organization’s other processes stifles its potential.  

What to do about the wet blankets? Reignite the fire of change when:

  • The potential value of an innovation is underestimated because it appears too small to make an impact: Moss Kanter suggests widening the innovation scope. Select the more sure-fired bets to get the lions share of resources, but don’t let the smaller ideas get ignored – stratify mid-range resources to the medium ideas, and get a large number of smaller ideas to share a much broader amount of resources. In other words, the smaller ideas shouldn’t be ignored, and may still thrive on a smaller amount of resources – in fact, they may all together outperform the sure-fired bets!
  • Only new ideas get new attention for development: the “new” can also apply to transforming an existing process. Accept the possibility of continuous transformation of already established ideas and projects – innovation doesn’t have to apply just to novel, new ideas.
  • Innovations are being paralyzed by the same strict guidelines faced by usual organizational processes: advocate for flexibility in the system to be reserved for innovative initiatives. Avoid applying those same standard processes for usual practices to innovation efforts. By setting aside resources or more flexible systems to implement innovations (e.g., minimal oversight, reserved funding, separate PR) without changing the culture and existing standards of the organization in place for usual operations, the innovation is not seen as a threat, and allowed to reach full potential.
    • A slippery slope: when ensuring that a flexible process system is reserved for innovative projects, this can segregate the engine of the organization – its people. Create union among all groups, encourage open and transparent sharing of ideas among the organization on new and ongoing projects, and reiterate that innovation is not a separate, foreign part of the organization, but a vital partner. In other words, avoid generating competition within the organization when supporting innovation – intertwine innovation among all efforts and encourage collaboration – the value contribution will likely be more supported, instead of stifled.


Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. “Innovation: The Classic Traps.” Harvard Business Review 84, no. 11 (November 2006).

Managing innovation risk – for startups, new ventures, and their funders

#2 is especially key…tailor your pitch (a future post)!

Strategy2Life: Strategy Execution and Change

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by Stephanie Owen – Principal Consultant, Strategy2Life

SkydiverRarely has disruptive innovation been such a hot topic since the term was popularised in Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Now, not a week goes by without a new conference or book in which innovation gurus tell established organisations that they must innovate or be disrupted. And the growing startup community – along with the accelerator/hackathon events that feed that growth – is testament to the many who aspire to the rock-star status – and stratospheric wealth – of the founders of Facebook, uber, and other iconic disruptors.

There are numerous reasons why innovation and startups are more important to individuals, organisations, and economies than ever before. The sluggish growth experienced by most developed economies over the last few years means that growth in existing products and markets can be hard to come by.  On the…

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Be the margin of change: Part II


Stereogram, c. Gary W. Priester

88 stereogramma

Remember the stereogram — a bunch of people herded around a picture of complex integrated shapes struggling to see a hidden image, then one finally finds it? The secret image was found by doing the opposite of what they were trying to do so hard – focusing. Instead, the one who found it may have crossed their eyes, or focused on their peripheral vision – not looking for “it” at all, but looking away. Then you tried…but, the harder you crossed your eyes, or the more extreme you took your peripheral vision, the harder it became. Only when you found that subtle “sweet-spot” of just crossing your eyes, or looking just to the margin of the center, did the (usually random, as in this case) hidden image appear magically. When you stopped trying, the solution appeared.

This approach, to marginally altering your original method, is a key to innovating. Essentially, seeking out the hidden Holy Grail in any corporate or healthcare landscape with innovation may be best attained by widening the focus, relaxing the conquering search committee, and accepting usually dismissed options at the periphery. By looking for the solutions in places not hogging all the resources, the most novel answers can come to the surface. This approach should take place before organizations set forth on orchestrating a formalized “Innovation Plan.” (Aside: In fact, the more planning that occurs, the less innovating may be occurring…)

When you find yourself huddled with the herd with amassed laser focus to “find the answer,” apply the lesson of the stereogram – look peripherally, consider novelty in under-recognized areas, accept the risk of traversing away from the focus, and the innovation Holy Grail may reveal itself. Introducing this marginal level of change to our approach for problem “solving” may be the least resource heavy, and the most yielding. (Another aside: this approach, to look away from the obvious solution and identify the problem first is what often teases out “innovation” from “research” – more on this in a future post!)

Be the margin of change: Part I

We are continually on a journey of comprehension. Rooted in asking why, when, or what. Many accept the answers to these questions, acceptance becomes the status quo, the status quo leads to stagnancy. The evolutionary nature of this breeds resistance to anything that seemingly threatens the status quo…a resistance to change. TheInnovationDoc is about flexing this resistance through innovating.

I am a physician. A physician who, not unlike many others, senses the global unattractiveness of this word – change. Our craft is one heavily embedded in a tapestry of handed down tradition, interwoven with steadfast antiquity and startling modernism that seem to flourish at a rate parallel to turn-of-the-century industrialism. The simplicity of the stethoscope is juxtaposed to the complexity of nanotechnology; trending biogenomics nudges aside the commonality of the antimicrobial’s role; the healthcare provider’s hands sense the slow imminence of the automaticity of artificial intelligence.

The healthcare landscape, once comprised of untouched valleys and peaks built on our craft, is now scattered by efficiencies, standardizations, management superfluities, policies – the status quo. The physician bends. The physician may want to return to the once pristine landscape, even if for a quick revisit, but this invokes the new landscape’s greatest threat – change. How do we preserve what simplicity is left in an environment where the standardizations of centuries ago are shifted to the ever-complex paradigms demanded by today? I believe this can be achieved, even if temporarily, by marginal changes of innovation.

How can we make change less threatening to the behemoth impactors of our dynamic environment? By injecting small alterations into the fabric of an organization’s culture. What do we do when technology drones from above over the blue drape of sterile tradition? By engaging its entrance into our practice with small embraces, instead of through gargantuan demands for new guidelines and practice that invade culture. How do we refocus the skill-set of the physician onto its core, while welcoming policy advances, stricter guidelines for quality improvement, and pressure for efficiency? By welcoming innovation  – expanding the horizons of our industry by reaching out to others foreign to our environment, trialling ideas that generate discomfort in the status quo, igniting liberal thought in an industry conserved by tradition, opening the door to Medicine’s heavyweight antithesis of all time – “failure.”

TheInnovationDoc explores the concepts of innovation, radical or otherwise, that traverse not only the healthcare environment, but the architecture of virtually any industry. Through a hodgepodge-like collection of articles, writings, musings, and stories, my hope is to provide a prescription to modifying the resistance to change we all face, in a small way – through innovating marginally.