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Constraints Are the Fuel of Innovation

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen on Mon, May 20, 2013

innovation whiteboardAt any point in the innovation process, businesses can come across new information, trends or practical issues that challenge thinking about what the end result of an innovation should look like. Maybe a new technology can’t scale or the application doesn’t have a big enough market. Or perhaps competitive analysis reveals that a new service or business model isn’t as unique as once thought. There are examples that many of us could on draw from our own experiences. Challenges like these can be frustrating and force businesses to think differently—creatively—about how to move forward. They actually provide the constraints within which an innovation project must operate.

At the FEI conference in Boston, there was a lot of talk about the role of constraints in creativity. Pasquale Cetera, VP of Portfolio Management and Strategy at Merck, brought this into focus during his presentation on R&D decision-making. Pharma is clearly a very developed industry, and this is a key challenge in innovation. The low-hanging fruit has already been developed and is on the market, so to bring new products to market requires more time and investment than ever before. This, along with the fact that regulations are ever-more stringent, means that the average length of drug development is rising, and pharma companies find themselves under pressure to focus and improve success rates at each stage of the development process.

It’s a big challenge with a significant bottom line attached to it. The necessity to maintain the business in spite of this has given rise to innovations that simply were not needed to make a profit until recently. Some of the innovations that Pasquale highlighted include:

  • New lead optimization approaches in the Discovery stage, so that suboptimal leads are let go early-on

  • Use of biomarkers to improve the probability of success in Phase 2 (Efficacy & Proof of Concept)

  • Business model innovation: from fully integrated pharma companies (FIPCOS) to fully integrated pharma networks (FIPNETS)

  • Collaboration with health payers to solve problems vs. traditional antagonistic relationships

Innovating within these kinds of big-picture constraints isn’t just a big-industry phenomenon. There are impressive innovations coming out of emerging markets, be it in the form of new agricultural models that support small farmers, mobile computing in Africa, or new type of distribution system for a CPG in India—as a few examples.

So, the next time you come across a challenge that alters the reality of your business, I encourage you to approach it not as a threat, but as an opportunity to differentiate and push innovation farther than it would have gone otherwise.

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. 

See how CMB and the South Street Strategy Group helped SunTrust use a customer-centric approach to inform brand strategy, improve marketing tactics, and drive organizational  transformation. Read the case study.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, conference recap, growth and innovation