By Mohan Nair
Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer
Cambia Health Solutions


In the course of my time as Chief Innovation Officer and leader of The Innovation Force (IF) at Cambia Health Solutions, people often ask me for insight into our approach to innovation in a large organization. My answer begins not with innovation, but with the values of our organization. The foundation of our program is values-based, as opposed to objective-based, innovation. What does this mean?

At Cambia, people are more important than ideas. We say this not because it makes everyone “feel good” about innovation. Ideas live in the brain, but values live in hearts. Values-based innovation brings focus to both. Leaders in our organization are charged with living the values in our company. Leaders who truly live innovation must practice innovation and coach others on the art and science of innovation. You must work with those you lead to move ideas forward.

With a foundation in innovation as a value, ask yourself two questions: Are you ready to engage in your ideas and the ideas of the team to create consumer-centered solutions, and are you resilient to ever-present change in consumer demand?

Readiness for new ideas
Our IF team participates in, but also observes, the ability of these organizations to think through new ideas for their consumers; design new and dynamic solutions; rapidly prototype these premises and test them against the market. Frankly, we hear more biases and barriers than we should. Readiness to new ideas is not a mindset; it is a skill that one develops and prepares one’s team to engage. Many excuses defeat us before we ever begin. Here are a few examples:

• “Why do something when the evaluation will only end in no”
• “We need to prioritize this before we start, because we don’t want to try something contrary”
• “We don’t have time for new ideas; we need to get today done”

Your job as a leader is to know the difference between weak excuses and actual barriers that you must weigh. Each time one of your teammates gives you a clear comment of why not, ask yourself what your “values-based” responsibility is to that team member.

If your team gave you three new ideas today, could you understand, define, design and then test ideas rapidly? If you can, you are ready. If you cannot, you are not living the value of innovation.

Ask yourself, are you:

• Encouraging ideas from your teammates?
• Collecting and monitoring how ideas mature?
• Deciding to trim and carve on these ideas?
• Taking one or two and experimenting to their end, or rather, to their beginning?

Finally, ask—if you do all the above, does your organization self-organize when you are notaround?

Resilience to ever-present change in consumer demand
Mike Tyson once brilliantly said that everyone has a plan until they get hit. That brilliance reflects corporations that spend more time living in markets, unable to endure market shifting. Are you a resilient leader in innovation? Can you pull your group up with repeated trials, failures and challenges to continue to find new ways to bring value to consumers, to implement success on the backs of failure?

These are words that you as a leader must place in your leadership toolkit for innovation. Ask yourself, are you able to:
• Bring new approaches to the team when they have failed to implement a project or program?
• Enable new skills and toolkits to your team even during a project or program?
• Remember the last time you showed by example how to take a problem and solve it across the different departments in our company?

If you say yes to the above, then you have implemented resilience in innovation

About the Innovation Force
Cambia Health Solution’s Innovation Force is the engine that enables ideas, accelerates solutions and creates companies. The diverse team is designed to build the value of innovation, accelerate business units and create new products and businesses.

Mohan Nair is currently Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Cambia Health Solutions, Incorporated, in Portland Oregon. Nair brings broad vision to Innovation, including experience as a high-tech entrepreneur and computer scientist, educator, strategy consultant, healthcare leader and author of three books.

At Cambia, he leads a team with a charter to engage employees and leaders in innovation, accelerate business units from problem to solution, and create new purpose-driven products, services, businesses and experiences. To date, he has created five startups in five years. Follow him at @mohanemerge