The Process Behind Innovation

SEPTEMBER 01, 2015
Over the past few months, I have described generalities associated with the concept of innovation by defining the terms, maintaining that this movement has staying power, and providing perspectives on how pharmacy remains opposed to it.
My goal for these topics was to interest those who are fascinated by the idea of innovating new products or services, have a desire to make the current health care system better, or want a non-traditional career path in pharmacy. I am also hopeful that readers will strive to improve the environment in which they work, incorporating new ideas and finding unique ways to deliver pharmacy services.
While these observations are helpful and informative, it is important to also provide practical aspects. Receiving insight on ways to innovate is crucial for those who desire to do so. There is, in fact, a process behind innovation to improve the odds of success.
The problem-solving process is innate to many pharmacists. We do not have a formulaic approach that we specifically follow for innovation; we just do it. And because we have done it so many times, we do not think about it. It is just second nature.
While this can be true for some experienced individuals, there is still a structured problem-solving process that is important to understand and follow in the first few attempts to innovate.
Without understanding the process and ensuring that all steps are followed, there is a high risk for missteps that can include developing a product or service where there is no market or interest, finding that a competitor has beat you to development and introduction, or learning that you are priced beyond what the customer will pay.
While these missteps can lay the groundwork for success in your next innovation, advance preparation through a systematic process can help minimize the risk of failure.
The problem-solving process that we teach our students is:

1.      Identify and define the problem.
2.      Analyze the problem; frame its scope and significance.
3.      Identify or formulate possible solutions.
4.      Evaluate the strengths and limitations of those solutions.
5.      Select and defend the best solution.

The goal is to define this process in a way that makes sense for students, provide them with experiences in both group sessions and as individuals to solve complex problems within pharmacy, and allow them to test new ideas and fail in a safe environment.

We also hope to have students observe how this process can help in developing potential solutions, gain confidence in their ability to problem solve, recognize the numerous problems that do not have answers, and get excited about being an innovator.

When developing new services within the hospital setting, creating new training programs within community pharmacy, finding novel ways to deliver continuing education, or patent new technologies, the satisfaction that is derived from innovation through the problem-solving process cannot be measured.

Observing the impact associated with an innovation you were a part of will drive and sustain you to tackle a bigger and more challenging opportunity. Being able to learn from and laugh at your failures is also critical, so that you do not repeat them.

Over the course of my next few commentaries, I hope to describe the various steps in detail. If you have a desire to problem solve through innovation, you will better understand these steps and then use them to accomplish your goals.

I would appreciate any insights and experiences you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think via e-mail at You can also follow me on Twitter at @stepheneckel.