For the past eight years or so, I have been involved in judging the Communiqué Awards. This year is particularly exciting as I have been asked to help with the category that specifically looks to recognise and reward the most innovative initiatives and campaigns in the healthcare communications sector.
Towards the end of last year, I wrote a short article on innovation (and bravery) off the back of having enjoyed success at the 2016 Communique Awards and at the Pharmaceutical Marketing Effectiveness Awards (PMEAs) in the innovation categories. The article drew upon collective experiences of conceiving and then delivering COPD Crowdshaped – an initiative that at times was genuinely terrifying.
As I thumbed my way through this year’s award entries I wanted to try and understand why the agency or client team chose to pursue an innovative solution in the first place – rather than an approach that was more established, better understood and possibly more likely to succeed. Less scary even. What were the alternatives to innovation? Why take the risk?
Why is that important? Well, because innovation is not always a force for good nor the route to success we might like to think. In business, innovation can accelerate a decline or worsen a problem – draining an organisation of valuable resources or creating a ‘downward spiral’ from which it can be hard to recover1. The risk must be worth it.
But innovation is hugely alluring, isn’t it? It’s exciting and ambitious – daring even – attributes with overtly positive connotations and qualities that many of us would wish to be associated.
Innovation does take many forms, of course – from the incremental to the bold and disruptive. Some offer smart, valuable improvements that, albeit small, make our lives easier or better in some way – I would argue than many of these are iterative rather than truly innovative. Bigger innovations have the potential to totally revolutionise our world.
Fundamentally, innovation is about change. It changes things for us as individuals or even as societies and change always comes with a degree of risk.
Unfortunately, when risk is confronted in our increasingly resource-pressured world, a ‘no’ can often be far more appealing than a ‘yes’. It’s more efficient and it’s almost certainly safer from a corporate perspective (in the short term at least) particularly when we can’t fully articulate the risks or quantify each of the variables. Or, most importantly, the benefit; the reward.
Yet, every day we all make decisions based on imperfect or incomplete information – those of us involved in scientific discovery should appreciate that better than most. We constantly weigh up the pros and cons of one approach over an alternative. We have a pretty good grasp of the importance of balancing benefit and risk.
It is the inability to sell the benefit/s well enough that kills most innovative projects. The consequence is that we end up calling (far safer) iterative improvements ‘innovations’ and this is the surest way to ensure innovation becomes just another meaningless piece of corporate jargon.
So, let’s take a few more (well-considered) risks and do our bit to ensure that innovation continues to be something for which we truly strive. Something genuinely special.