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Innovation Intelligence: Five Personas in Healthcare Transformation

team meeting at office

The culture of innovation is not unlike the cross-cultural variances we find around the world. Even in cultures that speak the same language, we can miss critical nuances that differentiate success from failure. So much like the application of emotional and cultural intelligence, organizations must study another “IQ” in the form of Innovation Intelligence.

It's very easy for innovation to lose steam, especially after a significant breakthrough. People are intellectually and physically exhausted and need a break from the aerobic nature of creativity and disruptive change.

However, some healthcare organizations reward innovation and thus sustain the momentum throughout the year. I would argue that this is primarily the result of assembling teams of high-performance “innovation personas” that have the agility of gymnasts and the endurance of long-distance runners.

In those teams, here are five personas I’ve seen drive innovation:

The Representative of the Holy See:

This persona has the unique ability to develop buy-in across highly decentralized healthcare departments or units. Unlike other innovation stakeholders, they are seen as having no personal bias in the project other than its successful completion. This persona assures underrepresented departments or constituents that their interests are being considered. To establish confidence with the profit center leaders, the Representative of the Holy See must demonstrate a deep understanding of the various departments or subsidiaries involved in the project.

The Dreamer:

Some people are genetically predisposed to be dreamers and creative disruptors. They may have difficulty executing the dream but when paired with those who can deliver, the dreamer is absolutely critical to innovation. True dreamers realize their insatiable need to ideate and are not dissuaded by failure, whether fast or slow. They play by the odds that there may be one big hit for every ten tries. The other nine build character!

The Analyst:

The analyst persona can be a mixed blessing. While many projects need deep analysis and analytics, we all have experienced the speedbump of “paralysis by analysis.” This person is not necessarily a finance type or even a scientist — they simply like to analyze all alternatives. CFOs love the analyst as they sense there’s a degree of adult supervision in the skunkworks process. Those who appreciate agility and velocity may not be so kind. Regardless, this is a critical persona on the team to maintain balance and professional diversity.

The High-Velocity Techno-Geek:

This is not a disparaging statement by any stretch — it’s just that a different kind of technologist is needed in accelerated innovation projects. Whereas healthcare enterprise IT may be known as the land of “slow and NO,” this persona focuses strictly on using technology as the art of the possible. They have difficulty operating in a help-desk-driven or DevOps environment and desperately need to break the rules (usually along with The Dreamer!). It’s a VERY refreshing persona to work with.

The Skeptic:

While I personally lean toward the dreamer persona, I realize that any innovation must have a person on the team who, by design, tries to poke holes in the project. Far too many innovation teams operate strictly using an inside-out lens without honest feedback from the marketplace. The skeptic is an embedded focus group tasked with asking questions that the most critical client (or CFOs! )will ask. While this is mainly role-playing, other innovation team members will learn to despise the skeptic for simply doing the job they are asked to do.

This job title was made famous by Pixar, who hired skeptics to ensure their animation projects were up to par for moviegoers looking for fantasy.

The Collaborative Persona:

In addition to individual innovation personas, there’s also a collaborative or collective persona unique to the specific project. This is entirely situational: You can have the same ten innovators work on an initiative related to patient admissions and then watch that collective chemistry change for a project on telemedicine. Emotional dials are adjusted based on slight variations in the dynamic capital one has in a particular initiative. Some innovation personas are unwavering regardless of the task, but that is not the norm.

Altogether, these five innovation personas (and their collaborative identity) bring the dynamic energy and drive required for healthcare transformation. So the next time you’re setting out on a new initiative, look around the room — which personas do you see? And which personas are missing?

Make sure Innovation Intelligence is at the table.

For more insights on Leadership, Patient Experience, Hospital@Home, Burnout, and Equity, log in to the ICD Healthcare Network.

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