“The value of an idea lies in the using of it”. Words by Thomas A. Edison, someone who knew a thing or two about using good ideas, as his light bulb has even become the symbolic image of brilliant intuition. “Turning the light on” in a corporate context is no easy task, but that’s exactly why it has great value. This is the objective of SDA Bocconi’s Innohack, the new methodology developed by SDA Bocconi and now applied to a new initiative that was born of the collaboration between the School and the multinational pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. An innovative context to activate the creative side of a workgroup, foster new business visions, but at the same time test their validity, select them and implement the most solid and effective ones.
Innohack as an “innovative hackathon”, an SDA Bocconi methodology whose objective is to create innovation in an accelerated way, using metrics geared towards the business world. In practice, it is a meeting of individuals from different backgrounds – different training, sectors, material needs and cultural vision – around a topic of common interest – in this case “The development of integrated therapy solutions to optimize the path of a patient with frequent multiple chronic conditions (Atrial Fibrillation, Diabetes, COPD/Asthma)” so as to define new organizational and market strategies to be carried out quickly. All of this to be done with a methodologically structured process capable of analyzing the context and the evolutionary trends, of considering the needs and the aspirations of all the representatives, of assessing the innovative proposals and of producing a conclusive synthesis.
“At Boehringer Ingelheim we have undertaken an evolutionary process with a Value Based approach,” noted Sabine Greulich, President of Boehringer Ingelheim Italia. “It is a new and inclusive path: we believe that value rises through innovation and that any progress is possible if based on cooperation.
We aim to promote and support the development of a better and sustainable healthcare system. We want to evolve both our value offering and our approach to the market, concentrating on an agenda of initiatives built with contributions from all of our stakeholders.”
“Boehringer has taken on an important challenge,” underlined Mikkel Draebye, SDA Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, and the person in charge of this project. “A company that produces pharmaceuticals usually has a preset mindset and operational working methods (definition of the product and the target, cost structure, distribution channels, etc.) and approaching the problem from the point of view of the patient is not something taken for granted. It is in fact about reformulating the product offer and its related services from a patient-centric point of view, meaning creating a model based on the involvement of all stakeholders – patient associations, scientific community, hospitals, family doctors – but involving also people who are completely outside this world, who bring ‘unorthodox’ visions. It means sitting around a table with different points of view, needs and interests, sometimes even conflicting ones, and talk so as to produce new products, services, and organizational models. It’s not only a matter of medicine, but of relationship with the patient in a ‘holistic’ sense.”
From idea to reality
What makes SDA Bocconi’s Innohack different from the many, often methodologically sound, creative workshops? The road test, so to speak. “We don’t stop at the creative side, but rather we give a lot of space to validating the ideas,” continued Draebye. “It’s difficult to understand beforehand whether the idea is good or not. Many ideas seem good on paper and in your head, but when they are put to the test they turn our to be not so. In innovation there are no ‘epiphanies’, there is no one capable of foreseeing in detail how and idea will work out in a complex environment. Results are obtained only by working on field iterations. It’s a method that comes from the world of start-ups, where testing and correcting times are tight. And it can lead to progressive adjustments of the initial idea as well as to its complete reformulation.” In other words, SDA Bocconi’s Innohack model keeps the two phases of the process together by following the “Double Diamond Framework”: at first it stimulates expanding the vision and boosting creativity to generate new ideas; then it concentrates on assessing and applying these ideas so as to reach a coherent business model that can be sustained over time. “Given the experience in business and in experimentation that SDA Bocconi has, Innohack becomes a work method that can be extended to any industry or organization,” Draebye reminded us, “because it can find new ideas that incorporate the point of view of both stakeholders and shareholders, as well as the needs of companies and those who deal with them at all levels.”
“What is different from other such initiatives,” added Antonio Catalani, SDA Fellow involved in the project, “is that our assessment parameters for the output are not only creative, they don’t merely measure the rate of innovation, but are also based on how well these ideas can be implemented and what their financial worth is. The results must have all the characteristics of a business plan.”
How it works
The initiative is carried out over a period of 3 days and includes subsequent phases. The first phase (Problem Reframing) identifies key variables: “Who the actors are, which are the activities, how they follow one another,” explained Catalani. “In particular: the patient, the doctor, the diagnostic exams, the specialized visits. But these variables could also be combined in different ways. Rethinking these combinations and these processes is exactly the aim of SDA Bocconi’s Innohack. This also has great value for corporate communications: the hackathon is a strong signal, both within and outside the organization, of investment in change.”
In the second phase (Idea Generation) we gather and organize all the ideas with affinity maps. After that, in the Idea Development & Prototyping phase, we select some of the ideas that came up and these are presented to all the members as “elevator pitches” (a mini presentation that lasts no longer than one minute); after reworking or refining the ideas based on the feedback, one of them is chosen to be made into a prototype. We thus move on to Validation Experiment Planning where we define the criteria and the activities to be used for testing and field validation over the next months, something that is no longer a simple idea but has turned into a structured project. The validation criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, must all be measurable. At the end of this period there is a final in-class meeting to present the results of the test. Throughout the whole process that participants are supported by SDA Bocconi Faculty facilitators.
“In other words,” concluded Draebye, “creativity is a talent but it is also a discipline that can be learnt and channeled towards tangible and measurable results.”
SDA Bocconi School of Management