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Careers

"I've Created a Factory for Ideas": Scaling Innovation With Homer Swei "I've Created a Factory for Ideas": Scaling Innovation With Homer Swei

Homer Swei is a very calm guy. His speech comes in measured sequences, moving with a kind of low-key adagio tempo. It almost seems pegged to a different metronome than the present.

Perhaps it's because Homer—way back before he earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering, became a scientist and had a drawer full of patents to his name—was an artist.

"Even now," he said, "I can't help it: I have this basic need to create. I feel strange if I'm not creating."

Being so inclined, he began to think critically about a paradox in the way many businesses operate. "I became really curious: Why is it that only a few people have the chance to be creative or to innovate a lot of the time? It never made sense to me to think 'Oh, you're a finance person, you can't do anything else' or 'You're a sales person, you can't do anything else.' Don't each of us have a full brain to use?"

Homer came to think of this as the "problem" of innovation: who gets to do it, how it happens and why. He also arrived at a solution—a novel, scalable, highly inclusive process that he calls, alternately, "reverse innovation" or "idea proofs."

Today, Homer's insight is helping us bring bold ideas to life.

Reverse Innovation: A Practical Guide

What does Homer's process look like? How does it work in practice?

It all starts with the setting, according to Homer.

"The reason your best ideas come to you when you're in the shower or out on a jog is that your brain is totally relaxed in those moments," he said. "At the same time, you're also focused and receptive. You're in a state of mind where, seemingly out of nowhere, new ideas are likely to come to you."

It's for this reason that Homer is careful to cultivate a low-pressure environment. For example, he'll kick off each session with simple conversational prompts: What have you been thinking about this week? What have you and your friends or colleagues been talking about? From there, it's pretty simple: People start talking.

For Homer, this is a key part of the process. He calls it "conversation capture."

"It doesn't matter where we start—that's just a seed," Homer explained. "But as the conversation evolves, I'll start taking notes, documenting and mapping each part of it. Every so often, I'll hear something interesting and make a note of it. Then people start responding to that, and gradually these really big-picture ideas start to emerge."

Of his own role in the process, Homer said, "All I'm trying to do is to get something out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Anyone can do this—anyone can take part in this process. Interns can do it. Non-technical folks can do it. I think I've found a way to tap the full brains of Johnson & Johnson employees."

There are clear benefits for participants, too. "There are amazing skills—and amazing insights—that you'll gain along the way," he said.

While the process itself is iterative and continually evolving, a few guideposts have proven useful for Homer. He called out several:

  • Focus on personal experience
  • Separate the critical mind from the creative mind
  • Relax your brain
  • Be passionate during concept development
  • Iterate
  • Create a safe space for dialogue
  • Rate and discuss the merits of ideas at the end

"Some of the things we're developing are really, really cool," Homer added. "Really, really cool."

How Will YOU Help Change the Future of Health?

If you're looking for an inclusive company where bold ideas are always valued—and where your unique perspective and experiences can be the seeds of health breakthroughs—you should check out all of the opportunities we're hiring for today.

In the meantime, why not sign up for our Global Talent Hub, too? It's an excellent way to stay in touch, learn more about our culture and even get updates about jobs that might interest you in the future.

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