Colleaga White Paper: Purposefully Cultivating Mission-Based Innovation Programs

Executive Summary

Mission-based innovation programs are disciplined, planned efforts to understand and orchestrate the creative energy and assets in aninnovation ecosystem in the service of a grand social purpose. The two critical success factors for mission based innovation programs are:

  • An Ecosystem Orchestrator playbook with measures and repeatable, scalable innovation patterns
  • An Innovator support platform to cultivate online innovation knowledge sharing communities, virtual teams and value exchanges through the ecosystem 


Many of us have had personal and professional experience dealing with health and social systems challenges and we know firsthand the relentless pressure to improve performance with less resources. We all struggle to understand challenging ‘wicked’ social and health systems problems and their intricate networks of stakeholders with different values and priorities. We know that definitive solutionsare impossible and our traditional linear processes for problem solving are not keeping pace as wicked problems evolve.




Computational Supernova and Moore's Law

Innovation Ecosystems

Mission-Based Innovation Programs

Building Mission-Based Innovation Programs



As global populations continue to grow, increase, and age, many of us experience numerous personal and professional challenges in health and social systems. These systems are operating in complex environments that require the management of fiscal challenges, staffing constraints, and downward cost pressures. We often struggle to understand how these challenging 'wicked' social and health systems problems evolve in relation to stakeholder networks, which are often composed of parties who hold distinct roles, values, and priorities. To address these 'wicked problems,' the traditional linear processes employed for problem-solving are far from adequate. Along with our experiences of complex wicked problems, we all have our own narratives about the opportunities presented to us by recent technological advances.

Exponential increases in technologies are changing industries at an ever-increasing rate, creating environments characterized by uncertainty and opportunity. In healthcare alone, there has been an astrounding growth in healthcare apps; just a few thousand mobile apps were available on mobile marketplaces just a few years ago. Today, tens of thousands of disease management apps, treatment apps, medication management apps, and health risk factor apps are available on the market.


Computational Supernova and Moore's Law

This kind of exploding growth is made possible by the confluence of technological forces. Tom Friedman coined the term Computational Supvernoa1 to refer to the incredible release of energy that is amplifying the power of machines, individuals, humanity, and information flows. The eponymous Moore's Law, coined by the Intel cofounder Geoff Moore, projects the doubling of computing power every 18 months. While his early predictions have been fulfilled, we are far from adept at understanding what 50 years of doubling really looks like and what that means for the next 5 years.

The confluence of exponential increases in computing power, storage, communications, and sensors has created this massive release of energy, making all these new elements available. In every indstury, including healthcare, everything analog is now being digitized, everything that is being digitized is being stored, everything that is being stored is now being analyzed by more and more powerful software, and that learning is being applied to make old ways of providing care work better. There are more feasible opportunities to make new things possible and to do old things in fundamentally new and different ways than ever before. 

This relatively new dramatically more connected, open, intelligent, and scalable environment is giving rise to new business models that emphasize speed, agility, and partnerships. Through developing an intimate understanding of innovation ecosystems and new kinds of formal and informal collaboration around shared ideals, standards, and goals, customers and businesses alike can take advantage of novel social, economic, and technological opportunities.


Innovation Ecosystems

Biologically, the term ecosystem refers to a collection of living organisms (plants, animals, and microbes) and nonliving physical components co-existing in a particular environment, linked together through complex nutrient cycles and energy flows. 

Similarly, in a business context, Innovation Ecosystems are structurally complex environments inhabited by diverse participants linked by informaiton and value flows. This architecture in turn is animated by dynamic new ways of thinking around how ideas can create meaningful shared value for members of the ecosystem.

Innovation ecosystem participants come in many forms. We are experts, enthusiasts, researchers, designers, engineers, students, developers, makers, patients, and consumers. We come from a wide variety of organizations, including private businesses, public companies, nonprofit institutions, Incubators, Accelerators, foundations and associations, with a plethora of different legal structures, motives, and sizes, from virtual startups to giant multinationals. We are driven by market forces, collaborative technologies, and emerging business models in an environment. We are brought together by a common desire to design, build, spread, and commercialize real solutions that can bring about meaningful change.

Driven by market forces, new collaborative technologies, and emerging new business models, even the definition of what falls into the boundaries of companies and organiations is changing. Organizations embrace Henry Chesbrough's concept of "Open innovation,"2 which takes a more decentralized and participatory approach to innovation.

We are using various organizing archetypes for creating understanding ecosystem structures. We are:

  • Creating teams, groups of people with a set of predefined tasks that contribute to a shared project or operational objective.
  • Building innovation ventures3 that enable individuals to self-select into entrepreneurial initiatives that balance investments, risks, rewards, and the constraints of bureaucracies.
  • Building networks that create new kinds of partnerships and relationships that generate innovations that could not be developed by individuals or companies alone.

Organizing this work through communities of different kinds:

  • Communities of Practice4 with groups of people with an interest in a particular domain and a fundamental commitment to sharing knowledge about a specific set of professional practices;
  • Communities of interest with likeminded peers, but no commitment to practice development and formalized knowledge sharing
  • Local innovation communities populated by groups of people with an interest in innovation in service of a larger community social impact.
The defining characteristics of a thriving innovation ecosystem are mutuality and orchestration. In contrast to a market that operates primarily according the laws of simple supply and demand, ecosystem entities operate out of mutual self-interest. No matter which or even how many of these organizing structures we belong to, we exist in an ecosystem where participants believe that they can create and receive more value acting together within the ecosystem than apart. As innovation ecosystem actors. we are entrepreneurs, clinicians, data analysts, all types of knowledge distributors, designers, engineers, researchers, and business people. There actors are brought together by a desire to produce things of value for the mutual benefit of ourselves, our organizations and the ecosystem at large.
Secondly, comparable to nutrient and energy flows in a biological ecosystem, we participate in coordinated interactions and value exchanges in the ecosystem. These activities can occur through informal cultural mores, through more formal rules, or through the facilitating activities of an orchestrator. Orchestrators5 are entities that help ecosystem participants collaborate, create and exchange value. Orchestrators5 may be participants or they may play a more neutral role. They may be highly influential and can control and enforce behaviors in, say, regulated industries, or they may have less obvious levers and be more focused on value creation and exchange between participants in the innovation ecosystem.


What is a Mission-Based Innovation Program?

Bringing together these two societal forces, there is enormous value in making progress against wicked health and social problems and great opportunity in accelerating technological capabilities and new collaborative arrangements that manifest in our innovation ecosystems. The key question for us as individuals and organizations is how to capitalize on the ecosystem opportunities in ways that embrace new paradigms, reduce risks and help us meet our personal, organizational
and social aspirations.
How do we collaborate globally to build amazing new products that aspire to deliver mutually beneficial community value, with both credibly measurable financial value and the value that our communities place on common good?
And in the face of ever-increasing complexity, technological uncertainty and novel organizing structures, how can individuals and organizations achieve and sustain innovation value?
This is the domain of mission-based innovation programs, disciplined, planned efforts to understand and orchestrate the creative energy and assets in the innovation ecosystem. These efforts are in the service of a grand social purpose to ignite collaboration among program participants and motivate practitioners and organizations. These programs function to cultivate and nurture mutual shared-interest in a greater purpose and are the organizing connection between the purpose of solving wicked problems and the energy and means to do
so effectively.
Global best in-class academic health science centers6 have demonstrated the effectiveness of mission-based innovation programs and have distilled a set of tenets to guide our efforts.
  • Mission based innovation is a discipline that can be practiced, learned, taught and measured. In dynamic, complex environments with a wide variety of problems and innovators, having an innovation program playbook with measures and processes is a critical success factor.


  • Mission based innovation programs utilize a variety of organizing structures including cross organizational teams, open innovation competitions, network partnerships, and communities in imaginative combinations to harness creative energies in different ways;


  •  Mission based innovation programs have sophisticated, nuanced intellectual property (IP) management and knowledge sharing arrangements. Instead of a universal intellectual property ownership and confidentiality approaches that emphasizes IP protection and risk avoidance, mission- based innovation programs presuppose that multiple business, market, technology and individual interests will shape their IP approach. They adopt policies and processes that seek to maximize value for all collaborating parties and the community.


  • Mission based innovation programs have various ways of creating and exchanging value. In addition to current cash payments, these value methods include ways of quantifying future potential good, measured through knowledge exchange and progress against outcomes. They include combinations of philanthropic giving with a desire for measurable outcomes, venture capital with a profit motive and other creative forms of matching individual and organizational investment with social interests.


  • Mission based innovation programs seek to create opportunities to expose the most creative and qualified people to the most fertile material to inspire creative thought. Much innovation happens at the intersection of knowledge domains. The innovation pipeline is stocked by an environment that makes curated knowledge readily available and optimizes interactions between material and makers.


  • Mission based innovation programs require innovation leadership, orchestrators and innovation infrastructure to provide leadership, governance and tools to achieve sustainable success.


  • Innovator’s time for and intimacy with the different aspects of the discovery, development and commercialization processes differ by individual. Some innovators want to be involved only in defining the problem space or in suggesting an idea for solution, while others desire a level of involvement from initiation to execution. The mission-based innovation program must be prepared to handle a wide variety of innovator involvement levels with sensitivity, empathy and good humour.


  • Innovation thrives when individuals, organizations and other participants are aligned in their mission and guided by a larger purpose.


  • Owing to these inherent challenges of successfully creating something new, mission-based innovation programs need to consciously create a culture that celebrates the pursuit of innovation and small successes along the way, not just commercial outcomes. Learning from failure, persistence and determination is essential for success and perseverance. These are key character traits that must be nurtured among innovators in a sustainable, mission-based innovation program.


Mission based innovation programs create platforms that enable members to set up and interconnect different kinds of communities and teams with:

  1. Collaboration tools to work together effectively;
  2. Global innovation knowledge repositories to openly share problems solutions and other content.
  3. Private communities of practice with mentors, influencers and knowledge in a wide variety of different domains, to help solvers find global markets and create market driven solutions.
  4. Crowdsourcing and open innovation tools to run business case competitions, hackathons, design competitions and challenges.
  5. Tools to share common business and entrepreneur support resources across multiple sites.
  6. Sophisticated state of the art computing, artificial intelligence and learning environments and sandboxes that solvers can use to develop their products and solutions more quickly and with greater competitive differentiators.
  7. Access to incubators and accelerators in different countries across the world to gain international market presence.
  8. Analytics dashboards to measure and improve innovation processes.


Building Mission-Based Innovation Programs

As an orchestrator, we are gaining experience with successfully creating and sustaining mission-based innovation programs.
  • The starting point to creating a shared understanding of the innovation ecosystem is mapping out assets and capabilities.


  • We then can create complementary innovation partnerships with participants who have a common mission, vision and agree on a set of operating principles.


  • We use our innovation platforms and processes to create and nurture communities, allow teams to form and create new forms of collaborative activities.


  • We bring focus to the wicked problem space and design activities and events to precisely describe the problem space.


  • The better we define the problem space, boundaries and interactions, the more precisely that problem solvers can target their innovation offerings to real needs.


  • We use a variety of open innovation methods to describe and search for solutions through design competitions, requests for information, competitive dialogues and other innovation friendly procurement methods. As we set these up, the boundaries between the company and the outside environment become more permeable.


  • We develop repeatable innovation services that are appropriate for different kinds of innovation partners who may be:
  • Busy inventors; whose priority is clinical care and need management and development support.
  • Entrepreneurs who need technology landscape assessment or market review.
  • Early stage companies that need a technical feasibility study or a clinical validation of their idea and first customer validation.
  • Later stage companies that need future proofing validation of future directions or additional customer proof points or scale.
Through these exercises, we instill innovation discipline and processes and we consciously cultivate a culture of innovation. As we create mission-based innovation programs, we are also cultivating new networks for collaboration, new capabilities for knowledge workers to learn, and a platform for solvers and entrepreneurs to accelerate and scale innovations faster and more successfully.

In this age of enlightened self-interest, we recognize that we can achieve our individual and company goals by fulfilling our community and social responsibilities.

The larger lesson for all of us is that the Age of Accelerations means that we are all in an interconnected, interdependent innovation ecosystem.

Any of the systems that we build will have components that are connected through the cloud to far flung applications, computing platforms and data sources, many of which we will not own.

Our best ideas may come from the unlikeliest of sources. The more we help our partners succeed, the better condition our clients and their health systems will be and hence, result in uncovering our contribution to the innovation value stream. This grand experiment with the most sophisticated, advanced, high performance computing middleware and almost infinitely scalable solutions is really a very human endeavor. It’s about connections and people and a genuine belief that generous collaboration is our surest path to personal success.


References & External Links: 


  1. Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations (First edition.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  2. Chesbrough, H. W. (2003). Open innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
  3. Marion, T. J., & Fixson, S. K. (2018). The innovation navigator: Transforming your organization in the era of digital design and collaborative culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  4. Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
  5. Davidson, S., Harmer, M. and Marshall, A. (2014). The new age of ecosystems: Redefining partnering in an ecosystem environment. [online] Ibm.com.
  6. Graham, T. J. (2016). Innovation the Cleveland Clinic way: Powering transformation by putting ideas to work. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

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