Is your innovation program in the right hands at the right time?

Innovation is never easy, especially in an industry as complicated as health care. There are many challenges including access to resources, unrelenting pressures in BAU and little funding spare to take chances chasing the unknown.

This heightens the need to be as considered and planned as possible when it comes to the innovation agenda. Having a simple and clear innovation strategy is a key part of this. Test and learn type proof of concepts and pilots are common to healthcare design. The development of new models of care and many good innovation practices and principles are applied across both public and private health domains.

Good co-design approaches are often used and the interactions with user groups are far-reaching far and unearth good insights which are then embedded into the design. Inclusion across the often-fragmented disciplines in healthcare are brought together in workshops and given the opportunity to contribute to solution better outcomes in health.

Funding is then sought and project teams are put together. It is here where often considerable thought is given to the types of skills which are needed. Considerations such as Clinical and Operational leads, Business Analysts, Project managers and IT specialists.

Sometimes it is through people being able to express interest in the project, sometimes through a tap on the shoulder or via an arm wrestle with internal management and other times consultants are brought in.

Often, however, little thought is given to the styles and preferences of the types of people involved in the stage that the program is at. Skill sets are often mapped straight into swim lane-type roles and the teams grapple with applying what they have always known to what feels very unclear.

Innovation is messy to start – it is unknown with high ambiguity. Sure, it needs the skills across the multiple disciplines to make sense of the mess and create a plan, however, in the beginning, it is more like a yacht race than a swim race (credit Dr Natalie Smith for this analogy) – where everyone needs to tolerate the ambiguity of who is doing what.

Consideration is rarely given to assembling the right people in the right teams for the right time. Too often leaders pull out their best performers to work on a new and important project without consideration of the styles and preferences of their chosen talent.

For example, a large health organisation rolled out a large-scale pilot and gave the program to a high-performing Operational Manager who continually exceeded KPIs in all other programs she led. This program was in its infancy and had a lot of pivot points that she found challenging to manage. Rather than acknowledging this misalignment, the leader was left feeling she had failed, the program was restructured and the strong delivery-focused leader subsequently left the organisation.

Perhaps this loss for the individual and the organisation could have been lessened with a better appreciation of the different stages and styles required. Similarly, an organisational health company asked their visionary Leader of new program design to lead it into delivery. He frustrated many on the way as although he had the skills to lead this, it bored him, and he found it hard to stay motivated. However, the executive would not let him move off this project claiming that an “architect should not leave before the house is built”. The project manager felt undermined as decisions about budget and timeframes were consistently compromised.

Diversity of skills sets and backgrounds is critical – successful innovation requires consideration of the right time to include the right people with the right styles and preferences.

Below is consideration of some archetype styles to consider when designing and developing healthcare innovation and transformation.

Architype styles to consider when designing and developing healthcare innovation and transformation

Architype styles to consider when designing and developing healthcare innovation and transformation


The styles are indicative and still require team diversity. The framing is to help consider which types may be more aligned to leading during the different phases.

Healthcare Innovation style archetypes

1. The Visionary

Simply put, the visionary usually leads the thinking, they are the ideas person. This can be either directly or through strong facilitation skills to bring out ideas based on problems and opportunities. They bring high empathy and are led by instinct and imagination. They do not respond well to too much detail or too many questions, they like to think bigger picture and are more strategic which can often frustrate the Deliverer and Gardener styles (see below).

2. The (Entre/Intra) Preneur 

Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur – it doesn’t matter if the organisation is a start-up or a corporation. The thrill to build and get something off the ground, to learn and iterate, to go left and right and back to left. The Preneur likes risk-taking, is determined with warrior-like tendencies and is not afraid to push the envelope to keep progressing. The Preneur works with the visionary to conceptualise the solutions and often has good problem-solving skills.

3. The Deliverer

Focused on tasks and deliverables, the deliverer puts the programs to work. The Deliverer is the trusted person to scale up, they are KPI driven and relish in detail and order. They don’t thrive in too much ambiguity and are often frustrated by Visionaries. They often bring strong problem-solving skills however may not always be as collaborative as the Preneurs.

4. The Gardener

The Gardener can see trouble coming, they are the ones watching results, seeing the trends changing and calling for change early. They are often shrewd and can see the opportunity cost of continuing with a program or service without the right changes. They prune, dig and cut, they bring the discipline and foresight that Preneurs may not admit, and Deliverers are too far in the weeds to see. Gardener’s are practical and like to evaluate with detail.

Each of these four styles can live amongst all areas and functions: including strategy, finance, clinical, operations, support and sales. For successful innovation and change, it is important to consider the lifecycle phase of innovation and the level of clarity involved. This will assist when putting teams together and consider more than the skills and traditional diversity required, including the styles and preferences of these people at each stage.

Harvard Business Review* more generally identified four types of innovators that every organisation needs for innovation. Similarly, their research found that it is not necessarily discipline-based but the need to have a good mix of styles depending on the stage. For example, they refer to Generators (like The Visionary) which are the rarest to find in organisations (only representing 17% of the sample) and whilst many organisations tend to look to their strategy teams for ideas, strategic planning was among the lowest occupation of Generators. For instance, there is a 71% chance that a 4-person strategy team has no generators at all.

The identification of stages and styles is important to move through and not get stuck. For example, during a google hackathon, it was found that agile practices stymied innovation because they focused on implementation rather than idea generation.

Likewise, a team of managers at a fast-food chain included mostly implementers, they went in trying to find solutions without slowing down to find and define the right problem. Once they relaxed their deadline for solutions and spent more time finding facts and forming a big picture; they then could create better solutions by discovering and defining unknown problems. This resulted in delivery in less time than originally planned.

Conversely, a strategy team for a large health insurer could not land a recommendation through analysis paralysis with too many conceptualisers. Rather than trying to reach perfection, they diversified their membership and with people more aligned with an implementation lean which helped them reach an acceptable solution.

The examples all illustrate that the types of styles and preferences require the need to continually take stock of the situation, goals and level of certainty. Taking a regular balcony view of people’s styles and paying consideration to where things are getting stuck, will assist in re-balancing the teams. This will help to unlock opportunities for sustainable change.

*Reference: 4 Types of Innovators Every Organization Needs (October 27, 2022)