Optimizing Innovation – Roopa Unnikrishnan of Pfizer

by Braden Kelley

Roopa Unnikrishnan of PfizerWe are happy to bring you some of the key points and insights from Roopa Unnikrishnan’s talk at the Optimizing Innovation Conference, which was held October 21-22, 2009 in New York City.

Roopa Unnikrishnan, Senior Director of Worldwide Strategy & Innovation at Pfizer, focused on the the messy-ness of innovation in her talk and that while the idea of four grey-haired people beavering away on innovation is true, it is also true that innovation has become more democratized (at least in Pfizer). The pharmaceutical industry has gone from trying to beat diseases, towards having to focus more on price and cost – but this has helped us think more creatively about innovation and focus more on the customer.

Instead of just having centralized innovation funding, Pfizer has put little pockets of funds in every business unit that they can access to test and fail fast with ideas they think need to be explored. They’ve looked at what the areas are that customers care the most about and think about their innovation efforts as a string of pearls, so that everything hangs together.

Similar to Whirlpool and others, they have 2 1/2 people at the center and a broad network of senior managers with an innovation mandate distributed around the organization as ‘innovation champions’. They also have a Senior Innovation Advisory Board of outsiders that includes Saul Griffith and Esther Dyson. Roopa also talked about the importance of networking to innovation. To encourage networking:

  • They have held a two day, in-person, 150 person event that 600 people would have liked to attend
  • They use Spigit to help people organize around interests and profiles, and also to serve up targeted challenges
  • They are also creating a manager network – because that is the level that is the most important to innovation success

Pfizer looks three different types of innovation:

  1. Transformative (creates new markets)
  2. Pushing the envelope (expands into new markets or better serves existing markets)
  3. Sustaining

And finally, when it comes to implementing innovation, Pfizer speaks about how there is a Mindset Change Cycle, an Intellectual Change Cycle, and an Emotional Change Cycle.

Optimizing Innovation Conference


Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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