How Do We Do Innovation?

Health care innovation, whether it is process, goods or services, is a combined bottom-up and top-down effort that requires an enabling, user friendly environment. If you think you are working in a place that is not designed for innovation, you can lead, follow or get out of the way. The choice is yours.

If you had an idea for a medical device, would you know where to go at work to get help commercializing or deploying it in your organization? Most of the time, based on my experience, the answer is no.

Gifford Pinchot, who originated the term "intrapreneur", has suggested that you rate your organization in several domains to see whether your innovation future looks bright or bleak. The elements of your organization's innovation readiness include:

  1. Transmission of vision and strategic intent
  2. Tolerance for risk, failure, and mistakes
  3. Support for intrapreneurs
  4. Managers who support innovation
  5. Empowered cross functional teams
  6. Decision making by the doers
  7. Discretionary time to innovate
  8. Attention on the new, not the now
  9. Self-selection
  10. No early hand offs to managers
  11. Internal boundary crossing
  12. Strong organizational culture of support
  13. Focus on customers
  14. Choice of internal suppliers
  15. Measurement of innovation
  16. Transparency and truth
  17. Good treatment of people
  18. Ethical and professional
  19. Swinging for singles, not home runs
  20. Robust external open networks

Given that there are a small number of hidden innovation gems on a medical staff or faculty, engaging them, getting them interested and moving them to action requires a carefully crafted and executed strategy. Whether you work in an academic or non-academic setting, here are some questions you should ask to assess your organization’s innovation IQ.

Is there structure, process, and leadership in place to help me commercialize my idea? What are the underlying assumptions and beliefs that drive the result?

Most major research universities have technology transfer managers and processes in place to help faculty move their commercial ideas forward. The initial steps typically involve determining whether the invention or discovery passes certain technical, legal, intellectual property, and market hurdles. If that’s the case, then technology transfer managers work with faculty or staff to identify potential licensees, like drug or device companies, or, with business development or spinout managers, who work with inventors interested in creating a separate company.

In community hospitals and systems, even large ones with many hospitals, large Research and Development budgets and hundreds of staff, there is typically no innovation management system or a designated executive to lead it. At best, some of the pieces are outsourced or inventors are referred to members of the hospital network or community with some experience. Usually, though, you’re on your own.

When it comes to innovation, does my organization have a process to move the medical staff from awareness to intention to decision to action?

There are several ways to internally market to staff to make them aware of what innovation is and how to participate in the creative process. Newsletters, websites, emails, educational events, and other tools help to create awareness and inform the staff about initiatives and opportunities to contribute.

What has your organization done to remove the barriers to participation and create incentives to innovate?

We all can identify things that get in the way. Common ones are, “I don’t have enough time to do this given my clinical and administrative duties,” or, “This is not why I became a doctor”. However, without a culture or ecosystem that enables those who are interested, ideas will usually fade into the woodwork or medical staff will leave.

Does your workplace celebrate success and cheer the champions?

Nothing succeeds like success… if people know about it. Awards dinners, articles, and press releases and other devices are great ways to highlight the accomplishments of peers and get others excited.

Are there robust internal and external networks?

Information rheology i.e. how information flows within and without the walls of your workplace, is a key determinant of intrapreneurial success. The ability to find a mentor is a good way to measure network strengths.

Is there a culture that accepts risk and failure?

Some cultures are based on rules, while others take a more flexible approach to reconciling the inevitable conflicts between creativity and control in the face of scarce resources. Do you feel comfortable telling truth to authority?

Health care innovation, whether it is process, goods or services, is a combined bottom-up and top-down effort that requires an enabling, user friendly environment. If you think you are working in a place that is not designed for innovation, you can lead, follow or get out of the way. The choice is yours.