Columbus, OH – Innovation is tough. Our leaders are asking for it. Our experts are telling us how to get it. We have dedicated innovation departments, new innovation processes and innovation summits. Many in healthcare are making big bets on innovation.

But these don’t always pan out.

Sometimes our initiatives struggle to gain traction. Our ideas fall flat or lose momentum.

How do we gain a competitive edge? Discover and build new ways of approaching the same old problems? See opportunities others don’t?

New findings in psychology might hold the answer.

How ‘Concepts’ Shape Your Experiences

In a podcast about the invisible forces that control human behavior, Invisibilia has been exploring a new way of thinking about how the human brain constructs emotions, reality and culture: concepts.

Concepts are your brain using past experience in order to make sense of incoming sensory input.” – Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University

This idea of concepts is counter to what most of us think about how experiences are made. We believe that we are taking in signals about the world around us and reacting to that real, objective world. That the experiences we have and visions we see are a reconstruction of the things outside of us.

But rising bodies of research in psychology and neuroscience show that everything around us is a blob until the concepts in our head shape them into an experience.

In the case of vision, if you have no concepts, you will see bright and dark. You won't see objects. We know this for a fact. There are people who have corneal damage or who have cataracts at birth. At some point in their adult life, they have a corneal transplant or their cataracts are removed, and we would imagine from the classical view that they would just be able to see everything. But they don't. They don't see for days and sometimes weeks… and sometimes years. There are things they can't see because they don't have concepts. Their brain has no past visual experience to make meaning of the visual sensations that they receive.” – Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University

The concepts we learn in life— from our parents, teachers, peers and media— shape the way we perceive the world. These concepts are reinforced by new experiences and can become as indistinguishable from our reality as water is for fish.

Our brains rely on concepts, and concepts make our world, our culture and our systems. They take the blobs in front of us and shape them into what we see. And they take the blobs inside us and shape them into what we feel. For better or for worse, experiences are constructed.” – Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University

How ‘Concepts’ Shape Innovation

Concepts aren’t just in us as individuals. Organizations often develop shared concepts of the world that construct the way people in the organization view their industry and customers.

In fact, this is key to what makes organizations so successful at efficiency— common concepts, language and viewpoints of what customers need and want. It helps employees organize around a common goal.

The problem is, these concepts are the very thing that makes innovation really, really hard.

Organizational concepts blind us to new ways of thinking, new wants of customers and new emerging marketplaces. They keep us to old biases and the status quo.

New Concepts For Healthcare Innovation

Luckily, concepts aren’t fixed. They are created by and reinforced with new experiences. We can help ourselves and our peers see new opportunities by engaging in new experiences that broaden our worldview.

The needs of patients and physicians are shifting. We’re finding that being patient centric isn’t enough— that health behaviors are consistently being shaped by family members, media and societal influences.

Having an organizational concept of a patient as a rational decision maker influenced solely by their individual motivations and desires will lead us down an unproductive path. New initiatives for patient behavior change might focus on the individual, when we really need to incorporate the messiness of daily life and the family into patient support programs.

Maybe our organizations have a concept about what patients want out of health information— motivational and aspirational messaging about what it means to get better. But in today’s media landscape, where #nofilter is a top bragging right, patients may crave content that better reflects their less often less than ideal reality.

If we don’t change that concept in our organization, consumer insights about authenticity might fall upon deaf ears. Brand managers might not even see why their content isn't connecting with patients.

Why This Matters

As innovators, in order to create impactful new experiences for customers, we have to change the underlying concepts in our organizations.

To do this, we first have to challenge our own conceptualization of reality. We need to push ourselves to have new experiences, empathize with different people and learn new ways of viewing the world. Instead of reflecting through introspection, some argue we should learn from others through outro-spection:

We then have the opportunity of taking these new concepts that help us see opportunity and spreading them across our organizations. To do this, we have to build language around these concepts, create new experiences for our peers and reinforce them so the learnings stick.

Only then will our teams be able to identify opportunity amid the blobs of sameness.

This way of seeing the world can create a competitive advantage and enable new avenues for innovation.

About the Author:

Zach Friedman