The path to innovation is changing every day in every industry. The Chief Marketing Officer of a global $10B+ healthcare conglomerate struggled for months to find a solution for a newly stated ambition: how could the organization develop a more agile, contemporary, and commercially-driven marketing function?
The company spent several months conducting conventional benchmarking assessments, including in-depth time allocation studies, interviews, and 3rd party plug-and-play benchmarking survey tools. These assessments, while interesting, provided little strategic direction beyond moving the benchmark need for the next round of assessments. The client, recognizing that this approach would simply lead to more of the same, sought a more focused way to drive change in the business’ marketing.
With this as a remit, Clarkston set out to help the company break away from the typical approach to marketing in the life sciences industry and instead innovate outside of the confines of the industry norm. We asked a simple question: what if we could leverage Clarkston’s proprietary database and approach to look at anyone, anytime, anywhere who solved similar challenges as those faced by our client’s organization, and recombine those insights into new, novel solutions?
The Shortfalls of Conventional Benchmarking
Clarkston’s experience in working with leading global organizations points to one consistent shortcoming with conventional market research and benchmarking: most companies leverage traditional quantitative and analytical benchmark approaches for problem solving, ultimately leading to incremental, “one-upping” and “me-too” strategies against direct competitors.
As business leaders, we are taught and measured against a specific competitive set – companies with similar customers, capabilities, and within a well-defined industry. It’s no wonder new product development, sales & marketing tactics, and a variety of other go-to-market strategies end up looking eerily similar across competitors.
To Overcome the “One-Upping” Trap, Look Outside Your Industry
World-class leaders and organizations recognize the best way to solve a problem is to look at it from a variety of angles with the goal of leveraging proven ideas and winning solutions from a broad set of arenas.
Steve Jobs once wisely said: “You can’t connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. Using this core idea as one of several guiding principles of our methodology, Clarkston leverages a proprietary process and database looking at thousands of contemporary and historical precedents of anyone, anytime, anywhere who solved similar pieces of the challenge challenging our clients’ ambitions. Emphasis should be placed on anyone and anytime – staying true to Jobs’ keen intuition, we focus on looking back at both current and historical reference points as critical inputs into the reformulation of novel solutions to our clients’ most critical challenges.
To Unleash Innovation, Companies Need to Look at the Challenge in a New Light
The challenges for our client were not unique to this organization – driving speed and accountability, modernizing capabilities, and eliminating bureaucracy. With that in mind, Clarkston embarked on a discovery process to first peel the onion and understand the root causes behind these organizational ailments.
Once the root cause for the organizational challenge is identified, itss critical to position them in the right light to unleash creative thinking. For example, take each of the following frames of reference – while each pair yields the same result, do they elicit a different way of thinking from you as you read them?
- Is it better to destroy 1 out of 10 widgets or to save 9 out 10 widgets?
- Is 98% fat free milk better than 2% (fat) milk?
- Is it better to have a 90% success rate or a 10% failure rate?
While the above three examples are an oversimplification, it shows how framing a challenge in a novel way is a critical first step and acts as a springboard to different and more creative ways of thinking.
For example, our client faced an uphill battle for many years to show marketing ROI. Upon digging deeper, we uncovered that the real challenge was not about lack of ROI, but rather that a cultural mindset and the fear of facing budget cuts led to a lack of transparency, which in turn undermined ROI calculations. Without taking this interim step to frame the challenge in a new light, the client team spent months trying to articulate marketing’s ROI to no avail, given that the real problem was a reticent mentality and a lack of transparency in the name of protecting budgets.
Looking Beyond Industry Confines for Best-In-Class Solutions
Next, to help the client break away from a traditional life sciences mindset and broaden the organization’s thinking, we set forth to empower stakeholders to think bigger, broader, and bolder by looking for the best insights and ideas possible that tackled the key reframed challenges regardless of the industry. To do so, we expanded our search to encompass insights and ideas as wide and as far back in history and as deep as possible.
With this in mind, we set out to synthesize critical insights and lessons learned from hundreds of winning examples across dozens of industries from Clarkston’s proprietary database, searching for examples that directly addressed multiple angles of the identified challenges.
This step is typically an uncomfortable leap for some organizations – after all, how can ideas unrelated to the highly regulated and competitive life sciences space apply to very specific company and industry specific challenges?
To Overcome the “My Industry Only” Benchmarking Paradigm, Companies Need to Understand How Innovation and Business Models are Born
Innovation is born out of a recombination of ideas – the human brain generates new ideas through a search and combination process based on past experiences and knowledge. By bringing to the table hundreds of relevant, carefully curated examples, we hack the creative process and put the science behind creative free-association to work in an expedited, collaborative way. In doing this process side-by-side with our client, the ideas are exponentially more abundant and unique as everyone brings different backgrounds and experiences to the table.
For our life sciences client, that meant using seemingly disparate references like Rachel Ray, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, and obscure figures like traffic engineer Hans Monderman. This approach led us to look at more traditional industries like publishing and the “Book for Dummies” series.
We used the “Book for Dummies” series as a relevant example to understand how companies outside of life sciences developed the skills and language to articulate their value in a relatable way. In the case of our client, marketing struggled to convey the value of the function and its ROI to the broader organization. The Dummies books took a perspective that readers were starting with zero knowledge on a given topic and adopted a style that did not feel patronizing, but still explained all operational details of the specific process/topic at hand. The books also focused on filtering out operational details that were unnecessary – in other words, they prioritized details that really mattered to the end user vs. the standard industry approach that more content is better.
By using these ideas as guiding principles to write books, “Books for Dummies” further simplified concepts for its audiences and made the information both enjoyable and easy to digest. The series sold over 15 million copies in the highly competitive, overcrowded publishing space.
What Does this Mean for Organizations Seeking Innovation?
We share the “Books for Dummies” example as one of several dozen ideas that were used in collaboration with our client to exemplify how a methodical approach to explore alternative markets, fields, people, and ideas can provide fuel to spark novel ideas and solutions. For our client, we used stories and insights like the above to generate specific solutions. Our goal was to gain alignment across dozens of senior leaders in the organization, generating a program and roadmap of activities to help simplify operational details required to drive a better understanding of the function’s ROI across a global life sciences conglomerate.
Innovation spans beyond product development – leading organizations innovate across business models, process improvements, organizational design, cultural DNA barriers, market expansions, and many other areas. For organizations who have innovation as a strategic imperative for growth, Clarkston’s Strategic Innovation methodology offers a scalable process to mobilize teams, injecting innovative thinking and approaches into any area to develop novel solutions to previously unsolved challenges.