In this webinar, Strategyzer engaged in a thought-provoking discussion with Ankita Deshpande, the Head of Digital Health and Experience Innovation at Alexion. We discussed her successes, learnings, and challenges with leading Alexion’s innovation accelerator.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals is a subsidiary of AstraZeneca with 2,500 employees that generated $6 billion in revenue in 2020. They partnered with Strategyzer to create an innovation accelerator inside their organization in order to help de-risk, validate, and scale innovation projects—all while navigating the challenges of long product life cycles and a highly regulated industry.
As Nick kicked off the discussion, he presented the audience with a pivotal question.
What prevents corporate innovation accelerators and innovation programs from succeeding?
In response, the audience highlighted various challenges, with "lack of leadership support" standing out prominently. Ankita concurred, emphasizing that some organizations run accelerators and incubators without strategic backing. She referred to this phenomenon as "innovation theater" and stressed the need for strategic embedding to ensure success. The good news, Ankita added, is that leaders are increasingly looking for tangible results. Leadership support is paramount for the success of innovation initiatives.
The need for innovation guidance and structured processes
Many organizations lack a structured approach to innovation. Ankita underlined the importance of providing team members with on-the-job innovation training, as opposed to traditional courses. Despite initial resistance, people found value in having a clear methodology to guide their innovation efforts. The Strategyzer Discovery Program provided a process to follow, which allowed Alexion to learn about innovation practices tailored to their context and organization. Over the years, Alexion closely observed the working dynamics of different sprint teams, deciphering what worked and what didn't. This process of continuous learning helped identify enablers and blockers in developing a robust innovation practice, enabling more informed decision-making.
Planting many seeds
Ankita acknowledged that many individuals and teams hesitate to innovate due to the fear of failure. This fear often stems from a mindset of "innovation doesn't work" and a general disillusionment with the innovation process. Ankita's insights remind us that overcoming this fear is crucial to fostering an innovation-friendly culture.
Ankita shared the challenge of convincing leadership to invest in innovation, which may not yield immediate results but has the potential for significant long-term impact. This tension represents the classic dilemma faced by organizations in the innovation space.
Ankita drew inspiration from Safi Bahcall’s book, "Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries," which promotes the idea of "planting many seeds" or experimenting with various projects. This approach involves avoiding large bets and, instead, trying out numerous smaller initiatives to see what works. This idea resonates with the practice of taking multiple shots at innovation and learning from experimentation.
The Strategyzer Discovery Program
The Discovery Program follows a structured 12 to 14-week process, encompassing various phases. It begins with onboarding and preliminary training to align everyone's purpose and knowledge. The real magic happens during the Design-Test Loop, where teams spend weeks shaping their ideas, identifying uncertainties, and preparing testing plans. This phase culminates in an intense eight weeks of experimentation. Finally, there's preparation for the finish line, where teams make evidence-based recommendations to persevere, pivot, or retire projects.
One crucial aspect of The Discovery Program is building capabilities. As Ankita emphasized, they embarked on a journey of training on methodology and gaining on-the-job experience. This learning path significantly expanded their team's mindset, instigating a shift in their way of working. Moreover, the program ventured into the challenging territory of transforming the company's culture, a critical aspect of any successful innovation program.
In the pharma industry, where innovation often revolves around molecules, this equilibrium can be challenging to achieve. Leadership at Alexion was predominantly focused on new molecules, necessitating a deliberate and gradual introduction of The Discovery Program. Their primary goal was to prove its value before seeking broader visibility within the organization.
- Start small: In environments where innovation isn't the primary focus, starting small and finding champions within the organization can be instrumental in building support.
- Targeted exposure: Gradually introduce stakeholders to the "why" behind your innovation program and how it aligns with the organization's goals. Showcase its potential benefits.
- ROI beyond numbers: While traditional ROI might not be applicable immediately, consider the soft returns, such as leadership support and development opportunities, as markers of success.
- Diversify risk: Diversifying risk across a portfolio of ideas and projects, rather than putting all resources into one moonshot, can be a more sustainable approach.
- Focus on value: Innovation should not be confined to technology; it's about creating value for customers, the organization, and, in some cases, society at large.
Ankita reflected on the incredible transformation that Alexion experienced throughout 2022. They initiated with 12 projects across two cycles, retiring or "composting" two projects, transferring four to the business, and persevering with six. These projects continued to push momentum and remain in a validation phase this year. This adaptive approach demonstrated the program's flexibility and the organization's readiness to navigate uncertainties effectively.
Innovation programs, such as Strategyzer’s Discovery Program, are essential for organizations looking to maintain their competitive edge. The journey underscores the importance of starting small, building support over time, and embracing a portfolio approach to innovation. The key lies in not just fostering innovative ideas but in transforming organizational culture and building capabilities that ripple throughout the company. It's not just about changing processes; it's about changing mindsets.If you’re a CEO or corporate innovator interested in learning how to make innovation happen in your organization, you won’t want to miss this webinar.