The politics of innovation

As a college student interested in going to medical school, I majored in what I was supposed to study in those days-biology. But, having gone to a small liberal arts college, I took advantage of courses in religion, foreign language,psychology, and political science. It turns out they all added to my perspective and skill sets as a doctor and physician entrepreneur, particularly those poly-sci classes.

You see, as a (physician) intrapreneur-an employee trying to act like an entrepreneur- it is almost impossible to GSD- Get S#%T Done-without knowing how to practice the politics of innovation.

Politics is the practice of power and influence and about winning and losing. A good idea, like a patent, is worthless, unless you can do something with it or translate it into action. So, if you are trying to launch a project at your place, here are some things to consider if you cut those political science courses :

1.There are many sources of power.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is also known as positional power. It's derived from the position a person holds in an organization's hierarchy. Job descriptions, for example, require junior workers to report to managers and give managers the power to assign duties to their juniors. For positional power to be exercised effectively, the person wielding it must be deemed to have earned it legitimately. An example of legitimate power is that held by a company's CEO.

Expert power

Knowledge is power. Expert power is derived from possessing knowledge or expertise in a particular area. Such people are highly valued by organizations for their problem solving skills. People who have expert power perform critical tasks and are therefore deemed indispensable. The opinions, ideas and decisions of people with expert power are held in high regard by other employees and hence greatly influence their actions. Possession of expert power is normally a stepping stone to other sources of power such as legitimate power. For example, a person who holds expert power can be promoted to senior management, thereby giving him legitimate power.


Referent Power

Referent power is derived from the interpersonal relationships that a person cultivates with other people in the organization. People possess reference power when others respect and like them. Referent power arises from charisma, as the charismatic person influences others via the admiration, respect and trust others have for her. Referent power is also derived from personal connections that a person has with key people in the organization's hierarchy, such as the CEO. It's the perception of the personal relationships that she has that generates her power over others.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is derived from a person's ability to influence others via threats, punishments or sanctions. A junior staff member may work late to meet a deadline to avoid disciplinary action from his boss. Coercive power is, therefore, a person's ability to punish, fire or reprimand another employee. Coercive power helps control the behavior of employees by ensuring that they adhere to the organization's policies and norms.

Reward Power

Reward power arises from the ability of a person to influence the allocation of incentives in an organization. These incentives include salary increments, positive appraisals and promotions. In an organization, people who wield reward power tend to influence the actions of other employees. Reward power, if used well, greatly motivates employees. But if it's applied through favoritism, reward power can greatly demoralize employees and diminish their output.

2. You need to find internal champions

3. You will need coalitions and sponsors

4. Resistors have a good reason and a real reason. Find the real reasons

5. You will never be a prophet in your own land so build credibility and status outside of your organization as much as possible and showcase your recognition, awards and accomplishments until someone inside your organization notices.

6. Demonstrate proof of principle using a low risk pilot and engage innovators and early adapters to support your efforts

7. Think like your boss who should be thinking like an investor. What's in it for him/her and what is the potential return on investment and when is the exit likely to occur?

8. Be sure to demonstrate scaleable impact of your idea

9. Create a VAST business model that is sustainable after you leave the scene. Have a succession plan.

10. Be will to compromise and horse trade to get the votes. Small wins are better than no wins. There is nothing wrong with losing the battle as long as you win the war.

You simply can't launch and developed your project without the votes inside, so , while you are creating your value proposition and business model canvas, be sure you are counting noses as well.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs