Ignite Spotlight: An Interview with Pfizer’s John Klick

By Jeremy Brown | Spigit
April 12, 2018

Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet, has been developing and executing an innovation and experimentation program for over five years. Needless to say they’ve experienced all the growing pains and successes that come with creating an enduring program.

We caught up with Pfizer’s Senior Manager of Worldwide Innovation, John Klick, to get the inside scoop on the company’s innovation program maturation and, as an Ignite 2018 speaker, what advice he would give someone who’s new to ideation.

Spigit: As you think about 2018, are there and trends in innovation or technology that you’re particularly excited about as it relates to your work at Pfizer?

John: Every large organization is looking at artificial intelligence, blockchain, wearables, etc. and we are no different. What excites me the most, and I don’t even know if this is a trend, is people analytics. Using data from how our colleagues go about their daily work to better connect them with other colleagues and opportunities – ultimately building more high performing teams to effectively experiment with whatever technology happens to be trending at the moment. At least in the near term, we still need groups of highly effective humans to move this innovative technology forward.

Spigit: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years building Pfizer’s innovation program?

John: Be patient. I assume if you are reading this you are a forward thinker and have passion for doing things differently and because of that we tend to be ready for change well before our counterparts throughout the business. Don’t get discouraged, sometimes we need to wait a little bit for everyone to catch-up to our thinking.

For instance, crowdsourcing at Pfizer dates back more than 6 years and it was not until recently our senior leaders started discussing that as part of their strategy, but we were ready when they did.

Spigit: You mentioned Pfizer’s executives and how they are talking about crowdsourcing more frequently than they were in the past. How did it get to that point, and what are some of the things you did to get them to embrace crowdsourcing?

John: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We started one challenge at a time, delivering on the objectives of the specific challenge, and that driving the sponsorship for the next challenge. That has driven 200+ challenges over the last six years engaging over 70,000 of our 90,000 colleagues.

Crowdsourcing along with our Dare to Try innovation and experimentation program eventually worked its way up to our executives, and since then they’ve taken more of an interest in it. Realizing that in order to stay competitive we have to look for new ideas and different ways of doing things, this gives our executives a new tool in their toolbox.

Spigit: Were there any surprises in terms of the ideas that were surfaced when you engaged those 70,000 colleagues?

John: Nothing too surprising. It’s interesting when we first launched the program; about 10% of the ideas in every challenge had nothing to do with the actual challenge. So, that was a key insight for us. It showed that this was something that the organization was just yearning for; they had ideas that they just needed to get out.

To build upon that, one of the things that we’re doing right now is engineering serendipity to increase the probability of more transformative or disruptive ideas. If you want to know more about how we are doing that then come meet me at Ignite!

Spigit: What advice would you give to someone who is new to innovation programs and ideation?

John: Remember patience and your experimenter’s mindset. Start with a core offering and learn, test, and adapt from there. I heard a quote from Amy Raden and she says, “Engage the army of the willing.” So, in some cases focus on those that want what you’re providing, and don’t focus as much on those that don’t. There’s always going to be people in the organization that don’t want change, that want to remain within the status quo, and this is not for them.

It may go without saying but In practical corporate terms, in order to survive you will need an executive or senior leader to be part of “your army of the willing” giving you the air cover to experiment and grow your program.

Spigit: Since Pfizer is almost 100,000 employees strong, when you started down this path of crowdsourcing did the innovation team look for champions within departments to permeate crowdsourcing throughout the organization?

John: At a broader sense we have built up a network of champions that are practitioners, facilitators, and advocates of our Dare to Try program. These champions have been vital to our success and allow our small team of seven to scale to service over 90,000 colleagues. Every champion has an awareness of crowdsourcing and a subset have been upskilled in the specifics of crowdsourcing.

Spigit: What are you looking forward to at Ignite 2018?

John: The connections. Ignite does a great job of bringing together an eclectic group of innovation practitioners. So, I’m looking forward to those conversations that happen outside of the main stage.

Spigit: Can you share a little bit about what you plan on talking about on the Ignite stage?

John: I’m looking to share with the attendees the past, present, and future of building an innovation program. Five years ago, we built Pfizer’s Dare to Try program and in that time there has been a lot of things we’ve done well, and things that we haven’t done so well. Also, giving attendees a glimpse at what’s next for us, what’s next for us as a community of innovators, and what’s exciting me over the next one to three years.

Have you registered for Ignite 2018 yet?

Ignite 2018 is right around the corner, May 1-2 in San Francisco at the historic Bently Reserve to be exact.

Connect with and learn from some of the brightest minds in innovation from some of the biggest companies in the world, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and adidas.

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