UXPA – Design and Innovation

InnovationThough I am not a member of UXPA (yet), I see more an more events very useful for an average online marketer.  The Design and Innovation: The Human Perspective event was very insightful; Ryan Ambruster was an amazing speaker, and I was surprisingly happy to see improvements in United Health Group, where I used to work a few years ago 😉

Ryan explained that one of his primary objectives is to elevate innovation to an organizational competency.  UHG was generally formed by acquisition, and at one point the company thought a need to direct more efforts on internal innovation and organic grow in general.

UHG-innovationThough UHG size impose understandable constraints “unless it is a billion dollar idea, don’t bring it to the table,” the company was able to invest into new approach.  UHG created an innovation center (very nice!) where project teams can rent space to work on the projects.  UHG has received industry innovation awards and takes its innovation approach seriously (the company created a web site describing its innovation successes and aspirations).

Lesson of innovation 

Ideas and creativity are almost irrelevant to innovation. 🙂  How to implement an idea is the main organizational challenge.  However, even more important point is to understand which questions to solve – where to apply the organizational energy.


There are three styles of innovation: 

  • Market-based (market situation changed or government regulations have been modified and organizations have to adapt)
  • Technology-based (a new technology becomes available, and everybody starts thinking “what useful can we do with this thing now?” – usual approach to results from basic research or adaptation of military applications)
  • Need-based (innovation that grows out of a specific need and helps to solve an existing problem – wheels on bags to handle luggage easier) – this is the best type of innovation


Approach to innovation (innovation science): focus on reliable and repeatable methods of innovations, not necessarily results as results may be based on luck.

Organizational structure of innovation:  People who is “running the ship” should be able to do their job, and generate observations and ideas, participate in review of the innovation program.  The organization should have a different group of people different from the group responsible for “running the ship”  to run the innovation process and implementation.

Innovation prioritization: in many cases our understanding of innovation is based on knowledge of break-through” innovation, what is a rare event, even it is the type of innovation most likely described in media.  Organizations are more likely to spend their efforts on “sustaining innovation” – innovation helping current business/operations and not necessarily contributing in any new approaches, market differentiation, etc.  Sustaining innovation activity will be always more extensive and immediately beneficial for the company.

How to accept failure – an inherent part of innovation.  Ryan recommended not to accept failure, but to “re-define” it.  The failure of innovation process happens only when the organization has not learn anything from the experience.  If the organization learned from the experience, it is not a failure; the effort can save investment that would not be targeted to the area that did not work.

Innovation example from UHG (need-based):

People visiting ophthalmologist typically do not think about health issues, but rather about the style of frames they are planning to pick up.  (Totally different approach to my native country – was very surprising for me).  However, over 30 health conditions can be detected during a routine eye exam.  Because of the patient’s perception of a eye exam as unrelated to the general health, referrals from ophthalmologists to primary care physicians were not followed as recommended.  UHG solved the problem by adding a nurse-coordinator, who connected ophthalmologist with primary care physician and assured continuity of care.

Hope for the future:

One organization had a “department of questions” – a person who would report to the board and through talking with different people of the organization try to determine which are the most important questions to ask.  Most organizations can probably benefit from something similar  😉

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