Opus College of Business

How to Innovate in Your Own Company

Dr. Jean Wright, vice president and chief innovation officer at Atrium Health, has successfully navigated a winding road of innovation in her career. At the recent Opus College of Business Executive Conference on the Future of Health Care, she was a keynote speaker who shared how to innovate in your own company.

how to innovate in your own company

Dr. Jean Wright

Here are 10 lessons from her journey.

  1. Use all the brains that you have, and all that you can borrow. "The hardest message I have to give my health care system is that disruptive innovation can spur growth," Wright said.
  2. A successful enterprise needs to have a toolkit. Wright noted that it's important to take the following tools into account: disruption theory; role of the CEO; deliberate versus emergent strategies; job to be done; resources, processes and priorities; role of culture; manager's view of growth; bounded rationality; interdependence versus modularity; business model; good money, bad money; and discovery-driven planning. These tools are described in more detail below.
  3. Know the role of the CEO. "Without direct CEO leadership, disruptive innovation won't succeed against core corporate priorities," Wright said. "The CEO or the most senior executive leadership must personally and repeatedly intervene to support disruptive innovation." She added that there are trolls along the way who "can't help but hate you." Wright shared the importance of coming to work with unbridled enthusiasm every day in order to survive.
  4. Look at deliberate versus emergent strategies. Whether taking a calculated approach or one that emerges over time, Wright said, "If you're truly innovating from within, you need to try strategies and pivot."
  5. Start with why, not who. "It's not about serving a target demographic but building a business model around serving specific jobs to be done," Wright said. She added that the job, not the customer or the product, should be the fundamental unit of market segmentation and analysis. Wright compared the success of Lowe's, a company organized around the job, with the decline of Sears, a company organized around products. She mentioned Proactive Health by Atrium Health, a new approach to primary care, as an example of starting with why.
  6. Not all business models succeed. While some have thrived, like Amazon Web Services, others have faltered, like Google Plus. Wright shared the time line of how Dayton Hudson Corporation became Target, highlighting that Target was developed through an autonomous business unit.
  7. Separate disruption from the core. Existing resources, processes and priorities make it almost impossible for a company to disrupt itself, according to Wright. To support innovation, Wright recommended that organizations build a new business unit with different resources, processes and priorities.
  8. Think about the mindset. Wright quoted Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who said, "Many innovations fail not because of some fatal technological flaw ... They fail because responsibility to build these businesses is given to organizational units that are
    not capable of succeeding." Wright recommended seizing the opportunity to invest in new growth when capital is abundant and relatively inexpensive.
  9. Make a stakeholder map early, and assess it often. Wright used a collaboration among the COPD Foundation, Atrium Health, Predixion Software and GlaxoSmithKline as an example. She called innovation a "trojan horse for change management."
  10. New business models require new metrics of success. Wright closed her presentation by saying that it's hard to determine the ROI on an unproven idea.

For additional insights into how to innovate in your own company, Wright encouraged conference attendees to listen to "A Sherpa's Guide to Innovation" podcast.

Learn more about innovation and the business of health care. St. Thomas is currently enrolling graduate students for next year’s innovation in health care master’s degree programs.