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January 20, 2015

The innovation books on my shelf are typically written by designers, famous agency wizards, marketing gurus, etc., so it was surprising to see a title, co-authored by a team from the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, popup in my Amazon book recommendations. After all, healthcare is rarely (if ever) seen as a hotbed for innovation. Not only was it intriguing to see a healthcare provider launching into the innovation conversation, but its title caught my eye as well –Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast – A Blueprint for Transformation from the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation.

So, what can the authors from Mayo – consisting of Nicholas LaRusso, M.D., Barbara Spurrier, MHA and Gianrico Farrugia, M.D. – teach us about innovation and healthcare marketing? It turns out quite a bit! The book probably contains 115 great tips and ideas that you should explore on your own, but here are the top 15 innovation insights that you can start applying right away.

Before diving in, this brief video tour of the Center for Innovation work environment will help you to put these 15 tips in context:

3 Core Principles
The title of the book –Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast is also Mayo’s trademarked operating philosophy and provides an excellent starting point for effective and powerful innovation.

  • Think Big. First, by thinking big and tackling important problems, the team at Mayo Clinic is able to help insure broad organizational support for its projects.
  • Start Small. Then, by starting small, complex challenges are reduced to manageable size, allowing the team to get immediate traction and tangible results.
  • Move Fast. Finally, by committing to moving fast, hypotheses can be tested quickly and interest in particular innovation projects remains high. The goal is to implement a major prototype of the concept within six months of launch. As Steve Jobs famously told his team at Apple, “Real artists ship.”

While the foundational principles of Think Big, Start Small, and Move Fast help power the overall innovation engine, at the core of Mayo’s innovation process is a deep commitment to the customer/patient experience: “Transformative innovation is an evolutionary form of innovation built on an undivided focus on the customer and customer experience… We constantly ask: Will our actions have the potential to profoundly impact the experience and delivery of health and health care?”

However, as you probably recognize, a mission statement espousing the importance of enhanced customer experience is not particularly unique in the marketing and innovation space. Where Mayo has differentiated itself is in terms of execution and long-term focus to this ideal. To make its vision of innovative patient experience come to life, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation has followed a carefully sequenced series of iterative steps over 11 years. In other words – building a genuine culture of innovation takes sustained effort over time, especially in healthcare.

To achieve this success, Mayo has narrowed in on “4 Habits for Gaining Deep Customer Insights” and “8 Executional Disciplines for Innovation.” Together, this innovation framework has helped it not only drive innovative programs throughout the Mayo Clinic, but also become innovation thought-leaders in its own right.

4 Habits for Gaining Deep Customer Insights

Customer understanding must go beyond traditional surveys and focus groups and identify the explicit, tacit, and latent needs. According to the authors, “the best innovations start by making the customer observations and doing the synthesis yourself.” This commitment to first-hand customer insight is realized through a number of customer-centric organizational habits.

  • Scanning and Framing. By constantly looking at broad trends – both within healthcare, as well as in a range of other industries, Mayo is able to uncover unique insights about the customer and then align those insights with its core strategies.
  • Experimenting. By constantly experimenting and measuring results, a clearer understanding of true user needs emerges, and allows concepts to be redefining.
  • Prototyping. A culture of prototypes helps to crystallize ideas and validate tangible models through a series of iterations.
  • Implementing. The end goal of broad implementation is kept clearly in mind. Solutions and innovations need to be scalable in a real-world context, not just in a small test.

8 Executional Disciplines for Innovation

In addition to these habits for delivering deep customer insights, Mayo has instituted a range of disciplines for building a culture that consistently delivers high levels of innovation.

  • Build a discipline of innovation. The Center for Innovation’s mantra about innovation is to “Build it, live it, champion it throughout the organization.” Commitment to innovation cannot just be lip service. True marketing innovation takes discipline and structure. The organization of the marketing innovation team is also important – allowing others outside the group to understand what the marketing team is doing, and how they can best align.
  • Recruit a diverse team. At Mayo, engineers, architects, product designers, and anthropologists are aligned with scientists and organizational experts to drive unique perspectives. How diverse is your marketing team? How often do you seek outside perspectives?
  • Embrace creativity and design thinking. For Mayo, failures are expected and tolerated in its pursuit of innovation. This Mayo video discusses their willingness to actually embrace failure!

How risk tolerant is your marketing team? Are you truly embracing creativity, and listening to your customers or just copycatting what other healthcare marketers are doing?

  • Environments matter. Innovative marketing is difficult to create in a cube-farm type of office space. Find a working environment that fosters Silicon Valley-style lab experimentation and collaboration.
  • Co-create with your customers and stakeholders. While it is tempting to “go it alone” with your marketing campaign, have you considered ways to incubate and accelerate you customers’ and stakeholders’ ideas, not just yours?
  • Organize around Big Idea platforms. Marketing innovation needs to address key brand strategic objectives. All projects must fit the big picture and vision.
  • Collaborate inside and outside. Encourage outside participation, partnership, and sponsorship wherever they make sense. In a rapidly changing marketing environment, some of the best campaigns are born from cross-functional, or even cross-industry, collaborations.
  • Consistently share your vision, process, and results. Be visible, and be easy and useful to work with. Marketing innovation cannot happen in a vacuum. Sales, commercial operations, customers, and other stakeholders need to embrace your innovative approach – otherwise your campaign will fall flat.

As you can see, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation has stepped up to meet the need for healthcare innovation in a big and meaningful way. It has also uncovered innovation principles that can help drive healthcare marketing innovation as well. When you have more time, Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast is well worth reading in detail.

Jim Walker