Champions help take a scrappy patient-led idea to scale. They give Seekers, Networkers, and Solvers access to resources held by mainstream institutions such as funding, media attention, regulatory guidance, or access to labs and manufacturing facilities.
Champions fast-track innovations.
This is the fourth post in a series that I’m writing to introduce the archetypes of the patient-led revolution (for my forthcoming book from MIT Press). So far I have introduced Seekers, Networkers, and Solvers. Today: Champions.
Here’s a bit of what investors, policymakers, and other leaders shared when I asked what advice they would give to aspiring Champions:
If you spot a patient-led team that has executed a successful pilot or launched a new product or service in a small market, recruit them to your incubator, startup accelerator, or other existing structure that helps entrepreneurs scale. Innovators need a container to pour their ideas into, otherwise they are less likely to make progress.
A Champion can help Solvers wrap a business reason around an idea and help it succeed. As one Solver put it, “Innovation requires adoption.”
Now, your turn. If you are a Champion, please share some tips for people who want to follow your path. Why has it been a competitive advantage to work with outside-the-box thinkers and creators? How do you attract and support talented people who may not fit the stereotype of an innovator or inventor?
(And yes, I intend to use these comments in my book or further articles about peer health innovation, so thank you in advance for your help!)
Image: Expedition 65 Launch, by NASA HQ PHOTO on Flickr.
Howard Rosen says
This is such a great series Susannah. As to your question regarding “Champions”, the best single tip (as there are a few that come to mind) I can provide at helping wrap a business reason around an idea, is to ensure to involve the stakeholders at the earliest stages of this journey. More specifically, to ensure the highest level of adoption, ensure that the idea not only makes sense to you, but to the widest possible group. To do so you need to involve not only the patient (as who knows better than them as to what they need) but also to the providers, clinicians, nurses, tech etc who will be involved in the outcomes process. Many a great idea don’t succeed as a business, not because the concept wasn’t valid, but that it wasn’t tuned to the needs and worklflows of those who were expected to be part of the solution.
Susannah Fox says
Thanks, Howard! I’m so glad these archetypes resonate with you. And yes, involving every possible stakeholder is so important. Too often the patient and caregiver are forgotten and leaders are left wondering why a trial didn’t accrue, a service isn’t being used, or a product isn’t being purchased. On the flip side, a patient-led innovation has to work hard at networking their way to get feedback from leaders — which in a lot of ways is harder for them to do than for companies & orgs to simply ask patients what they think. Patients are more ready to participate (in my experience) than leaders are.
I’d love to hear examples and stories of successes and failures if you (or others reading this) have time to share them.
Ben West says
Champions are often professionals in their own right. They don’t necessarily share the same connections to a cause as the people who start them and may even face risk for their support. However, their support for a cause is often an expression of vocation or personal principles. This makes their support a.) reliable and b.) effective.
Where seekers and solvers see unapproachable bureaucratic processes or burdens, champions see an opportunity to make their daily work have more impact. Champions are typically focused more on process and less on particular outcome than seekers. Champions can focus on shifting the Overton window into an opportunity that meets all stakeholder needs.
They are reliable in the face of set backs, and burnout from folks who are personally attached to particular outcomes because their professional objectivity allows them to focus on process. They can be excellent sounding boards because they are so familiar with stake holders that may be at odds with each other. They can use their professional creativity to help solvers create, design, and find actionable opportunities. When set backs occur, champions are sometimes the only ones who can offer the perspective of the critical path for success to solvers.
They are unreasonably persuasive because they can wield their professional expertise to frame a problem that is designed to muster resources and support. They are just as likely to shift perspective of prospective change agents as shifting the perspective of any existing stakeholders.
Susannah Fox says
Ben, this is an awesome description of an ideal Champion. Thank you!
For those who may not be familiar, the Overton window refers to “the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.” In this context, I think Ben is referring to the shift of culture in an industry and in regulatory bodies to center, for example, citizens’ rights to their own data rather than a corporations’ rights to hold that data hostage. Just to pull an example out of the air 🙂
Ben West says
Yes! There have been times when, personally disappointed by an outcome, some champion reliably shows resilience and shifting my perspective. An example of this is needing clinical trial data to generate evidence from real-world outcomes. Ten years ago this was impossible, but now multiple trials have published safe and effective use for open source digital therapeutics in diabetes thanks to efforts of Dana Lewis, Katarina Braune, et al. My champions told me this was inevitable at a time when it seemed impossible. The influence is often multi-lateral across stakeholders.
Susannah Fox says
Love that point, Ben. Mentors and Champions can give the gift of confidence and patience, based on their experiences seeing an industry or a society change. “DocTom” Ferguson was just such a Champion for me (and many others).
Susannah Fox says
Since this blog is my outboard memory I’m going to capture a few comments posted on Twitter.
In response to my tweet that read, “Champions give patient-led innovators access to resources like funding, media attention, regulatory guidance, or access to labs and manufacturing facilities.”
Hannah (@herlifeinpixels) wrote, “Yes and what I don’t see discussed is valuing the *labour* of said champions. If we want to see more of this innovation pipeline, we need to design systems that don’t just incentivise orgs to work with champions, but also meaningfully reward champions & align with their needs.”
Jessica Walker (@JWalker_HC) wrote, “I founded my co based on my own negative experiences in HC and all of my team was inspired to join based on their personal experiences. You are spot on that change agents coming from the ground up.” And Ben West (@benwestisdoing) replied, “This is my experience as well, Jessica. Hearing “we are aligned, let’s work together” and having it prove genuine often creates really helpful resources. Getting a champion’s attention, creativity, and feedback are often as important concrete resources.”
After I asked Jessica to elaborate on how Champions have opened doors or unlocked resources for her at key moments she wrote:
“1. My first client was an internal champion at a health system that believed in the idea and put her own neck on the line to challenge the status quo with internal silos and also use her budgets to fund the projects. This is why exist today.
2. Partners in the industry that believed in me opened doors to conversations that ultimately grew more work. They had nothing to gain from the advocacy but did it because they believed.
3. Leaders of companies I used to compete against in the space are now some of my biggest advocates and have made warm introduction to their clients because they believe in the work we are doing and the power of doing the right thing by the patient
We are boot strapped to date solely based on champions opening doors and conversations. I am now working on growth funding hoping this same momentum will help us find the right VC partners”
Thanks, everyone, for sharing these thoughts & insights!
Kimberly Herrington says
Psychological safety is everything. Champions can’t discover and unlock solvers potential nor locate a seeker in need if places and defined spaces for open communication are not created, maintained, owned, shared, and valued. People need to feel safe asking questions or giving an answer- but none of that can happen without a venue or channel where users can present as their authentic selves. Champions can create these spaces, networkers can help drive use & adoption.
Susannah Fox says
Yes! Thank you for bringing out that point. Helping people to see themselves as Solvers, making space for people to experiment with solutions that are imperfect but on the path to useful — that’s what Champions can do. And indeed Networkers are Champions’ best allies, boosting the signal for great (but not yet widespread) ideas and helping Seekers & Solvers connect.