MCBASSI & COMPANY

How health care stifles innovation

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Yes, I know that health care is not the topic du jour.  But innovation is.  And the two are intimately related to one another.

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand how the U.S. “system” of health care stifles our individual creativity and, ultimately, our collective ability to innovate.

A promising young journalist friend was almost unable to accept a once-in-a-lifetime, part-time writing assignment—even though his employer was willing to grant him a leave of absence.  Why?  Health insurance.  A gifted handyman is unable to exit an untenable living relationship and geographically relocate to a new place that holds greater economic promise for him.  Why?  He’d lose the health insurance that comes with his significant other.  A first-rate saleswoman languishes in a job that she hates.  Why?  She is afraid of losing the health insurance that her less-than-inspiring employer provides to her family.

Yes, health care reform has been passed, and some relief will begin to trickle through the system over the next few years.  But it will take more than this before our individual and collective energies are no longer held hostage by the health care system. 

This is something that reasonable people should be able to agree on, despite differences in their political leanings.  If we are to unleash human potential – and we must do so as a nation, if we are to maintain a comfortable standard of living – then we simply can’t have an entire nation of creative people whose life choices are dictated by their need to maintain their current health care plan.

This calls into question the motivations of employer lobbying groups that resist any and all innovations that would help people achieve greater health care security.  While it might be in employers’ individual interests to continue to use health care as a means of reducing employees’ ability to quit, it is not in our national interest. 

It stifles creativity and innovation at a time in our nation’s history when creativing and innovation are exactly what we need.

Seven inexpensive ways to foster innovation

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As the economy continues to show early signs of recovery, innovation has become the mantra of many CEOs. And rightfully so – it is abundantly clear that the future will not be a linear extrapolation of the past. A convergence of powerful forces has created a fundamental turning point in the economy. Smart innovation is the key to our future prosperity, both as individuals and as organizations.

But where does innovation come from? And how do you create the circumstances that foster it, increasing the odds it will occur? Innovation can’t be decreed. Although sometimes it happens by chance, more often it occurs because the conditions are right.

In our analysis of hundreds of organizations, and hundreds of millions of bits of data over the past two decades, we have identified seven simple, inexpensive actions that foster innovation (and drive business results as well):

  1. Seek and use input from employees, including when you’re making hiring decisions
  2. Improve communications to reduce unnecessary worry about job security
  3. Foster open, explicit, and frequent discussion about how to improve the value you create for your customers
  4. Creatively seek to make jobs fit employees’ needs when possible
  5. Focus on improving broken processes, especially when they can be addressed inexpensively
  6. Help employees get access to inexpensive online resources that will enable them to learn new skills
  7. Support low-tech methods (e.g., brown bag lunches – you buy the cookies!) for fostering the flow of information between departments

None of this is rocket science. While it doesn’t require much money, it does require focus and intentionality. This, in turn, requires that leaders muster a commitment to look beyond the urgent issue of the day (or the quarter) and focus on what’s important for the long run. Maybe that’s why these common sense approaches are so rare.

(This post was also sent to our email newsletter subscribers earlier this month.  Click here if you’d like to subscribe.)

Capitalizing on employee innovation

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A new Forbes.com article explores how Bayer AG systematically encourages innovation from its 108,000 employees – and then sifts through to identify and capitalize on the best ideas. 

The foundation is a program called “Triple-i: Inspiration, Ideas, Innovation,” with submissions from any employee routed directly to a team of innovation experts at Bayer AG headquarters for evaluation.

Fostering innovation

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A recent IBM study found three characteristics that are crucial for successful business innovation, which can help companies create a more sustainable competitive advantage in today’s ever changing marketplace.  These “three A’s” (alignment, adaptability and analytics) are highlighted in a Forbes.com article that also emphasizes the importance of using data in creating innovative business models.