Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

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Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.

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