What was once “out-of-the-box” is no longer out of the box. As time goes on and progress is made, your company must continuously progress in order to remain competitive. In essence, those companies that can enact positive change faster than the rest will, over time, become more successful, and a key component of positive change is innovation. Knowing how to change and fostering innovation are complex and abstract challenges, and many biotechnology companies have difficulty dealing with them. The challenge of driving innovation, which I will discuss in this post, can be tackled with some creative thinking and by fostering a suitable environment.
Before I get into the “how”, I’d like to offer another important piece of advice. Innovation in many companies is something that is performed reactively. Most companies, especially those beyond the start-up phase, innovate in response to a pressing business need. Innovating in this manner will allow your company to adapt, but rarely will it allow you to excel. In order to start being a leader in your field, you need to innovate proactively. Make it a point to account for innovation in your company’s goals and strategy to help ensure innovation stays proactive.
Innovation more frequently occurs at interfaces where different ideas and perspectives come together, so encourage that within your company. Do your engineers and scientists not frequently talk? Make sure they have an opportunity to get together and talk about product development and your current products and technologies. Mix in personnel from marketing, sales, and support as well since these are the people who communicate most with customers and will be most in tune to their needs. It isn’t enough to just have them generate ideas, however – there needs to be an avenue for these ideas to be vetted and potentially obtain buy-in from the appropriate people in management. Make sure that avenue exists and is communicated to your employees so you can allow innovation to come from all areas within your company. It is also worth noting that a Gallup study found that the most engaged employees are the most likely to be driving innovation, so if you are thinking of creating focus groups or using other inclusive techniques to foster innovation, you may want to select the most engaged employees.
Innovation can come from outside your company as well. Another great benefit to having broad connections with customers (which can be fostered via customer relationship management, social media marketing, directly, etc.) is leveraging them for ideas on how to improve your products. While your customers will be unlikely to drop the next great technological breakthrough in your lap, they are often very happy to tell you what they need. If you have a particular problem that you need solved, you can use “challenges” with high-value prizes to get ideas. Such challenges themselves, however, require a solid marketing effort to ensure that they are well received and that your company gets a good enough response to make it likely that at least one submission will meet your needs. Alternatively, you can leverage existing platforms that post innovation challenges such as Nature and InnoCentive’s Open Innovation Pavilion.
All companies must change and innovate to grow and stay competitive, and the ability to successfully innovate is of immense value to life science corporations. While harnessing the power of something as abstract as innovation can be difficult, building goals, strategies and tasks with innovation in mind can being the process more within reach and under control. Once your company starts reliably driving innovation, you can proactively change to become a leader in your field.