The Value of Outside Thinking

Alpheus Bingham was a vice president at Eli Lilly when he noticed enormous sums of money were spent trying to solve various technical issues surrounding drug development.  After many expensive failures, Bingham wondered if there was a better way to solve problems.  He started to ponder the value of outside thinking.

You see, as he tried to manage a massive research and development department, he wondered if he always had the right people working on the right problems.  If only he could match the most qualified person to answer the question, then he could spark innovation.

In June of 2001, Bingham launched the website InnoCentive.  The idea was simple.  Post a problem for outsiders to solve, along with a monetary reward for solving it.  The results were stunning.  After less than a year, InnoCentive became an essential research and development tool for Eli Lilly.  The input of outsiders led to tremendous innovations.

By 2003 the website spun off from Eli Lilly.  Now many Fortune 500 companies use the site to post problems that were not getting solved before, despite having billions of dollars invested in their research and development departments.

One of the most surprising aspects of InnoCentive’s success, as covered in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine – How Creativity Works, is that many of the technical problems are solved by people outside of a given discipline.  Physicists solving engineering problems.  Chemists helping biologists.  It’s the outsider who is not deeply entrenched in a given field who often finds innovation.

What does this mean for a dental practice?  When you want fresh ideas, you may benefit from asking the right people.  Give patients an opportunity for feedback through surveys.  Bounce ideas off of patients who you respect.  And, of course, lean on your trusted advisors to help you find the best approach.  No matter what we are facing, we can typically benefit from outside thinking.

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