Innovation Leader Cleveland Field Study: Getting Inside the Innovation Cultures at Cleveland Clinic, American Greetings, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, KeyBank & More

By Leslie Evans Director, HIMSS Innovation & Conference Center

Innovators are all about “thinking outside the box.” So, isn’t it a brilliant idea to get them literally “out of their box” and into other leading-edge organizations?

Spending time with other innovators and innovation teams sounded like the perfect way to re-charge my own batteries. That turned out to be the biggest perk in attending the Cleveland Field Study sponsored by an organization called Innovation Leader.

I stumbled across this event as I was researching innovation centers – and looking to learn from others in the industry. I was intrigued to see an Innovation Field Study scheduled for June 20-21 in Cleveland. The teaser video caught my attention with this bold statement: “Innovating inside a large organization is difficult. You can’t do it without the right allies on your side.” The event promised to teach best practices on building internal partnerships, working with business units, and creating advocates.

They had me. I signed on as a registrant -- and I’m thrilled that I did.

A Field Trip for Grown-Ups

Innovation Leader runs their Field Studies in cities across the country, including San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. The two-day event is focused on creating strong relationships between innovation and R&D teams and the rest of the business — from IT to HR to business unit leaders. In Cleveland, more than 50 innovation executives gathered together to discuss strategies for forging effective internal alliances that support innovation.

We traveled throughout the Cleveland area, touring facilities and hearing from leaders at some of the world’s most innovative organizations: Cleveland Clinic Innovations, American Greetings, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, KeyBank, Progressive Field, and Sears Think[box] at Case Western Reserve University.

At each stop along the way, we took part in fascinating whiteboard sessions led by executives from Nationwide, J.M. Smucker, Energizer Holdings, GOJO Industries, Philips Healthcare, GE Healthcare, and other industry leaders.

The sessions were highly interactive and gave us a remarkable opportunity to think through innovation roadblocks and challenges with like-minded corporate leaders from a broad cross-section of industries. Not surprisingly, similar challenges kept emerging as we talked about building internal support for innovation within our companies. It was a breath of fresh air to hear others put into words the struggles I see in the field of healthcare technology.

My Aha Moments & Innovation Insights

I’ll share these pearls of wisdom I gathered in the Cleveland Field Study sessions:

  • Innovation initiatives tend to sit at the edge of the business, without the same resources or attention as the core.
  • Innovation can mean a lot of risk for organizations. If they’re innovating strictly for ROI, they’re missing the point. A company’s strategy and finances may not always be aligned with entrepreneurial endeavors – and understandably so.
  • Innovation is never just about the idea or the business case: it’s about relationships, diplomacy, aligned interests, incentives, and communication.
  • If you can get people to identify innovation as a brand rather than a program within your organization, they feel like they can be a part of it and own a slice of it.
  • An innovation leader must be a marketer within the organization -- as much as they are a change agent, an innovator, a facilitator, and a trainer.
  • Innovation engages the customer throughout the process – by spending time with customers to enhance relationships and get new ideas or feedback through focus groups and sneak previews.
  • “Co-opetitive” is a new term – for bringing so-called competitors together to solve common problems.
  • Culture plays a big part in producing innovation leaders. To succeed, innovative leaders need a supportive culture – one that leads to hiring more innovative people.
  • Innovation requires productive failure. There is value in a “shark tank” style event to show that leadership rewards efforts as well as failures.
  • Business units are operators, driven by concrete, near-term financial goals. They love the thrill of the big deal, the press release that moves the stock price. They excel at keeping supply chains and factories humming, and overseeing complex networks of salespeople, distributors, retailers.
  • Innovation teams are explorers, responsible for looking ahead, exploring terrain that hasn’t been mapped. They’re motivated by spotting something before anyone else does — whether it’s an emerging customer preference, a new business model, or a technological possibility.

After two days “outside my box,” surrounded by ideas and strategies from some of the best and the brightest innovators -- I walked away encouraged and equipped with new tools, new relationships and possibly new partnerships.

I’ve become a Field Study “evangelist” – and want to spread the good news about the value of forging internal alliances and building a better understanding of successful innovation within a large company. Learn more about Innovation Leader Field Studies – and how you can apply the i