Adopting the Innovator’s Mindset

Too many innovations fail because they’re solutions looking for problems — not the result of a disciplined process.

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Lorraine Marchand has been an innovator since childhood, starting when her father challenged her to solve a process problem involving sugar packets at a local diner. Her new book, The Innovation Mindset: Eight Essential Steps to Transform Any Industry (Columbia University Press, 2022), is an in-depth guide to the innovation process that draws on her three decades of experience in new product development. Currently general manager of life sciences at IBM Watson Health, Marchand recently spoke with MIT Sloan Management Review about her approach to innovation and what many of us often get wrong about it.

MIT Sloan Management Review: What is the most common, significant mistake that innovators make along the new-product development journey?

Lorraine Marchand: So many innovators follow the “build it and they will come” philosophy — we see this so much in tech. I’ve spent a lot of my time in life sciences and health care, which are very much dominated by technology. When I’m working with early-stage innovators or entrepreneurs, often they’ve been in their engineering lab or their chemistry lab or their computer lab, and they stumbled on something or followed a research theme, and so they’ve developed a piece of technology. It’s super cool, it’s advanced, it can do everything but wash the dishes, and they really want to get it out there. They go right to business plans, and they miss the cardinal rule of innovation, and that’s to ask, “What problem are we solving for? And is there a customer who wants to pay to have that problem solved?” That’s really the central tenet of my book.

For example, early in my innovation career, I was teamed up with a colleague who licensed a piece of technology out of an Israeli lab. It could measure oxidative stress in any sort of body specimen, and so it was super cool. He paid a lot of money for it and brought it to the U.S. We pulled together a who’s who of oxidative stress experts, but the problem, as we dug dig deeper and deeper into it, was that oxidative stress is a byproduct of just about every disease.


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Comment (1)
Donald Kasongi
Lorraine's critical reflection on navigating innovation is well curated .Innovative ideas and innovations should be aligned to well contextualised situation instead of being prescriptive and generic. Innovations should be responses to problems and not solutions looking for problems.