Companies that have embraced open innovation are looking outside their walls for new ideas. These companies are seeking out partners to fulfill their innovative goals more readily and transform their businesses with new technologies and services. Inventors should be on the lookout for opportunities to work with these companies.
But in order for creative people to supply practitioners of open innovation with good ideas and inventions, they must first understand the company’s goals and mission in terms of products they’re creating for their customers.
Typically, this information is not difficult to find, because these companies are proud of what they’re doing. One such open innovation company is LifeScan, the 40-year-old glucose monitoring and diabetes management provider. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are over 537 million people living with diabetes today, and that number is, unfortunately, growing. The pandemic accelerated the need for blood glucose monitoring systems, with higher-than-anticipated demand occurring worldwide.
To find out about the open innovation practices at a market leader like LifeScan, I interviewed Lisa Rose about where new ideas come from and how they are developed.
Rose is responsible for patient-centered innovation and company expansion at LifeScan, where she leads the commercialization of digital health platforms and new continuous glucose monitoring technologies.
Previously, she was head of global marketing for Abbott Diagnostics and the chief marketing and innovation officer for Vyaire Medical, where she was responsible for innovative new products and growing their respiratory business. She also spent 15 years in senior marketing leadership roles at companies including Novartis and Procter & Gamble.
“In healthcare, innovation is the lifeblood of any company,” she told me in a phone interview.
Testing blood glucose levels today isn’t completely pain free, but it’s come a long, long way from what was a very cumbersome process, Rose said.
“People who have had diabetes for a long time know that and will tell you that. But it can’t stop there, because we’re still poking ourselves. There are new innovations — continuous glucose monitors being one of them, of course — that are wearable and seamlessly take a reading. Even Apple’s trying to find ways through RFID chips in their watch to get readings. They haven’t perfected it yet, but it’s coming,” Rose told me.
One of LifeScan’s innovation priorities is to make blood glucose testing less and less invasive. The other is to slow down and reverse the epidemic of diabetes itself, which is fast-growing around the globe. While approaches to getting a number in terms of blood glucose readings have advanced, the disease itself persists.
“There’s been innovation in insulin dosing, pumps, smart pens, and medications. And yet, here we are still decades later and diabetes is on the rise. It’s not improving,” Rose explained, emphasizing that progression is an area that remains a place of innovation that’s desperately needed.
During the pandemic, people with diabetes were forced to adjust to telehealth and remote monitoring, when many were used to going in to an office and seeing their physician. As a result, the digital space has blossomed.
Where And How New Ideas Emerge At LifeScan
At LifeScan, a large number of employees have diabetes or have family members with diabetes, Rose told me. Being intimately familiar with the experience of diabetes not only produces a culture of compassion; it also means that innovation starts internally with their employees and internal innovation events.
A global panel composed of consumers and physicians contributes to its market research efforts. When Rose wants to get feedback about ideas, needs, and new innovations that have been developed — as well as test new concepts and products — she consults with this dedicated group for a quick response.
“Literally, I can come up with an idea one week and two weeks later know the answer. The panel is great for rapid fire, very agile development work,” she explained.
Rose highlighted the importance of direct observation in identifying unmet needs and generating new ideas. LifeScan salespeople routinely sit down in the offices of endocrinologists and specialists around the world to obtain firsthand knowledge about what’s happening on the ground. Marketers sometimes join in on these trips, in addition to conducting interviews and visiting patients in their homes.
A qualitative study conducted during the pandemic in which consumers were asked to tell marketers about a day in their lives produced a fascinating outcome. Consumers weren’t told that the study was diabetes focused; instead, they were simply asked to describe a day in their life.
Using their phones, they invited LifeScan employees into their homes by giving them a virtual tour, sharing their kitchens, how they go about preparing a meal, and what they like to do during the day. Eventually, after LifeScan felt like it had really gotten to know the individual, they were asked questions about diabetes and how it fit within their lives.
Out of the three hours that individuals spent with marketers, Rose revealed, it took about 90 minutes before they even mentioned they had diabetes.
“They didn’t want to talk about it. They really did not want to spend time on diabetes, because it’s so pervasive in their lives,” she said. “The insight we got was, if you’re going to help people with diabetes, you need to help them with more than just the number. The number is affected by so many things in your life: How many hours you’re sleeping, how much water you’re drinking, what foods you’re eating, how active you are. All of these lifestyle choices impact your glucose number. Just showing them a number really is not all that helpful.”
LifeScan was inspired to bring about a digital revolution. Could data be harnessed to bring visibility to the whole self of the patient, in real time, so they could see how their choices were impacting their glucose level? That would allow them to make positive lifestyle changes, which have been shown to slow the progression of the disease.
The question became, Rose said, “How do we automate it so that all of your readings are coming into a central repository? We want to help people understand, from a metabolic perspective, everything that’s going on that’s impacting their blood glucose — and we’re doing that through open innovation.”
How Open Innovation Helps Solve Persistent Problems
To help develop its idea for OneTouch Solutions into an actual product that would “bridge the digital divide,” Rose tapped into the expertise of tech companies. Using an app, consumers could record their actions throughout the week more precisely, generating more accurate data.
Recognizing the benefit of working with an expert in absorbing and communicating large amounts of data, LifeScan began working with Amazon, with whom they now have joint prototyping effort underway. They’re also working with Google; FitBit is a partner. Other partners and collaborators for OneTouch Solutions include Noom, the weight management company; Welldoc, a chronic disease management company that absorbs lab and behavioral data; and Cecelia Health, for life coaching.
These partnerships are a two-way street, she stressed.
“We’re sharing data with them, they’re sharing data with us — and all of it gets absorbed in the cloud. From there, we’re able to then data mine, and we have data scientists on staff who are looking at how to correlate the data, thinking through different algorithms using machine learning.”
I loved hearing that they are also actively scouting for new ideas by constantly talking small startups, including fledgling ones that don’t even have an idea yet on paper.
The overall goal? To help people with diabetes manage their health using information and insights specific to them.
Rose told me, “The real step forward is when I can tell you that, ‘Hey, we’re observing in your life when you sleep more like eight hours, when you at least get 20 minutes a day of exercise, and when you have an apple at lunch — whatever — your time and range increases by 20%. This last week you noticed you were sleeping only six hours a day and not getting enough exercise and you’ve been out of range by 50%.”
Most of these patients are managed by either primary care physicians or endocrinologists, Rose said. Understanding how to help their patients adjust their diet, fitness routines, insulin, and/or medications based on how they’re living their lives is super important. The idea being, if physicians were able to see their patients’ whole personhood in an easily consumable report, they would be much more advanced in their ability to manage their care.
The Biggest Takeaway For Inventors With Big Ideas
“The way to accelerate innovation is to go to those who are best at what they do,” Rose explained. “LifeScan has really embraced that notion. We’re not trying to create our own weight loss app or our own fitness app. We know what we’re really good at, which is understanding your glucose levels and your numbers, getting you a really accurate reading, helping you look at your numbers and all the other stuff that you’re doing, and then bringing insight about that to your life.”
Open innovation is the future, she added — because none of us can do it all ourselves.
Most inventors think finding companies to share their invention ideas with is the difficult part. But in my opinion, the difficult part is inventing products that their customers actually need. Companies that are truly innovative are in contact with their customers constantly. They make the effort to get to know them intimately.
Inventors would greatly benefit from better knowing the needs of their customers. Speaking with the users of a given product and understanding how they interact with it is the only way to come up with solutions that are valuable to them. This can be achieved through focus groups, reading product reviews, attending trade shows, and simply sitting down with those who are affected to discuss the issue.