It Can Be Done! Innovating for Good


Those that say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by those doing it!

James Baldwin

Often there are unexpected barriers to innovations as we move toward commercialization. What could you do to plan for the unexpected? First, let’s explore a few of the (un)expected challenges:

  • Funding is always a challenge
  • Regulatory roadblocks
  • Internal mindsets are not alignment
  • Company’s current culture is not in sync with the innovation itself
  • Funding (oh, did I already note that? Your innovation budget is not big enough?)
  • Resources, how the heck are we going to add one more thing to our plate
  • Current sales/marketing+ teams do not have knowledge or experience with the NEW NEW shiny bright cool innovation “thingy”
  • The Company Board of Directors do not understand how this fits into the overall strategy, funding becomes a challenge here again, if you are a public company, how will the budget needs affect the bottom line?
  • +

These are just a few of the challenges (we heard over and over again and worked through with our clients) working on innovation projects and then moving them out the door to customers (commercialization of the innovation). They can be overcome but forth-thought, scenario-planning.

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There is a wonderful documentary film, They Say It Can’t Be Done, written and produced by @PatrickReasonover, that explores and follows four companies as they work to overcome the unforeseen, unexpected and even planned for challenges. I had an opportunity to interview Patrick for my book chapter, Breaking The Paradoxes to Innovate for Good, in the forthcoming book; The Other Side Of Growth, An Innovator’s Responsibilities In An Emerging World, published by Global Innovation Institute ( GINI ).

Below are some valuable insights from my recent interview with Patrick.

“Critical to the world’s innovation effort is Harvesting the Human Imagination!” Patrick Reasonover

The documentary explores how innovation can solve some of the world’s and humanity’s greatest challenges. The four companies interviewed are on the cutting edge of technological solutions possibly promoting animal welfare, solving hunger, eliminating organ wait lists, and reducing atmospheric carbon. The film explores a number of the barriers potentially keeping these companies from realizing success. But how does one break the concrete walls stalling, if not stopping, great innovation?

Change the Questions to Minimize Barriers

“researchers have mastered a powerful technique for growing ears from fat-derived stem cells”

The compelling theme from these companies is innovation for good – innovation with a moral foundation to improve humanity. One of the first questions typically asked by stakeholders is “When will these companies or their new innovations become profitable?” researchers have mastered a powerful technique for growing ears from fat-derived stem cells. To the vast population in need, do they care when the company will be profitable?

Here’s the “BIG SHIFT”… change the question.  What if we changed this question to, “What will it take to make this technology, this company or their solutions successful, and how can we help these products to market and accepted faster?”  But it’s rate if never that innovators are asked this question! Knowledgeable and experienced teams want to answer the question “what will it take”, but when they put forth the effort they are, many times, promptly stopped with the “BUT when will it be profitable.”

Reasonover shares, “Faced with similar challenges to the companies in the documentary, I felt if more people understood barriers, the world would see more successful outcomes that could save people, improve human conditions, and the environment.”  Reasonover went on to share four themes that would greatly help disruptors in their innovation practices. These four themes are summarized as follows (I go into much greater detail in the forthcoming book):

1.    One of the most important points Patrick made in our discussion is to engage regulators and government agencies – collaborating with them very early on in the process and all along your path. Help them to understand; listen and take in their input. Show you heard their concerns and integrate their feedback into your plans.

2.    Institute what Reasonover calls an ‘Ambassador of Imagination’. “We need more imagination in the world and in our own corporate/organizational worlds.” It’s too easy to get boxed into an innovation framework, stage gates and agile development all too often collapsing on the familiar, back to our comfort zones, so to speak. What’s easy is not need to be ignored, these may be short term plums to pick. But expansive imagination innovation; solving GRAND issues (traveling to and setting up camps on Mars, 3D printing hearts for transplants, 3D printed foods that protects the earth but feeds more of the universe), needs a champion to take the blinders off and imagine much bigger!

3.    Optimism is sorely needed in the world and especially for innovators. Getting new things out the door is daunting. Infuse your efforts with doses of optimism grounded in reality, and ensure you have optimistic people around you. There is a place for the “nay-sayers” they raise concerns to be answered but don’t allow infection of all nays to stop excellent innovations from moving forward.

4.    CELEBRATE… hitting milestones should be celebrated along the way. It’s a long road, and all too often we get push back from doubters, investors wanting faster outcomes, governing approval agencies, and so on. Celebrate and move forward!

These four practices create a culture of growth-mindedness, purpose and vision … the fuel for successful innovations. Employing these four simple strategies encourages the celebration of imagination! The follow on is innovation in action, successful commercialization out to market, and celebration for all the collaborators helping you get there. Involving agencies early on in the process helps them to understand that you are taking safety and ethics seriously. Take for example 3D-printed organs for those needing transplants. There is so much at stake. Stepping through the approval process to prove it out on less risky organs – for example, 3D printed ears – helps to chart the course for other organs as the technologies and the discovery of new methods continues to develop.

More to explore