What Healthcare Organizations Can Learn About Innovation from Startups, Part 1

Lean Startup methodology_diagramWhat Healthcare Organizations Can Learn About Innovation from Startups, Part 1 by Hilary Weber, MBA June 9, 2014 Large, established organizations everywhere are struggling with innovation – but few face more hurdles more than healthcare organizations.  The added challenges of regulatory issues, HIPAA compliance, EMR system integration, sky-rocketing costs, the need to increase transparency with consumers and other constituents, among other factors, make innovation in healthcare organizations nearly insurmountable (at least it can seem that way). Innovation rarely happens by taking the same approach, time after time.

Healthcare professionals often (very logically) will default to a proven, “safe” approach to new challenges because going out on a limb can, understandably, feel dangerously risky.  So how can innovation become a reality, even for large, long-established healthcare entities? Let’s take a look at Silicon Valley startups for some answers.  Startups represent “pure innovation” – the company and team are new, their ideas are new, they are applying new technology/methodologies/approaches to produce viable products and services.  They are unencumbered by legacy systems, past memories of “we tried that in 1998 and it didn’t work”, and steep hierarchies of decision-makers.

So how do the future stars of Silicon Valley create and sustain an environment that allows innovation to flourish? In this series of articles, we’ll cover the various ways startups foster innovation.  One way is by embracing failure as a critical “ingredient” of success.  Yes, you read that right.  Failure is something we must all embrace in order to innovate. Startups, as small, new companies, are virtually invisible from a brand perspective.  Although a few still operate on “stealth mode” before they launch, most of the world doesn’t even know they are there, so it’s not really necessary for them to hide.  Contrast that to a huge healthcare organization spanning several states or the entire U.S. and it’s quite a different story – the brand is huge, valuable and very exposed – having well-established brands can hold most health organizations back from trying and failing. But fail we must – failure is a key ingredient to innovation.  Making it “OK to fail” – actually, making failure “a part of your/your team’s job description” will make all the difference in developing an innovative environment.

Startups are also incredibly nimble and quick – there are stories of huge startup successes (DeveloperAuction.com is one example) where, as legend has it, the basic technology solution that allowed the site to launch was built in a 3-day period.  And that is not the exception, it’s the rule – hack-a-thons are frequently-held events that last less than 24 hours, proving how fast startup developers can move to create entire new solutions that didn’t exist before everyone entered the room.  How can today’s healthcare organizations mimic this sense of urgency?  How can we find a way to “not leave the room until we get to a solution” instead of letting ideas suffer “death by committee?” One other factor is transparency with their customers.  Startups who espouse Lean Startup* methodologies know that they need to “get out of the building” to talk with customers about what they need, and then maintain open lines of communication with customers as they create potential solutions, incorporating customer feedback into the designs and ideas while maintaining a strong focus on their own company’s mission and goals.

What can healthcare organizations do, beyond the typical one-off focus group, to increase transparency and involvement with customers from the start and all through the innovation process? In the next installment of this article, we’ll explore more ways startups engender innovation.  Please stay tuned…

Hilary Weber Founder and CEO, Opportu Startup Leadership opportu.com

*The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, 2011.

Lean Startup Methodology image source:  http://theleanstartup.com

Hilary Weber






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