3 things that kill creativity on innovation teams: Lifespan leader weighs in

Innovation must be a collaborative, boundary-pushing process supported by a team that is diverse in every sense of the word, according to Megan Ranney, MD, director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health, a partnership between Providence, R.I.-based Lifespan and Brown University. 

Among other topics at the Becker's HIT + Revenue Cycle Virtual Event, Dr. Ranney discussed the most important characteristics of a strong innovation team and what kills creativity among these team members.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity. Click here to view the session on demand.

Question: What does innovation really mean in healthcare? How do you define it at your organization?

Dr. Megan Ranney: I think innovation is one of those almost overused words right now. Everybody says that everything is innovative, and it's actually part of the reason we didn't put it in the title for our Center for Digital Health. We think about innovation as occurring when you facilitate collisions of ideas, hopes and frustrations among a wide cross section of people. So the idea of innovation is that you take ideas or possibilities from disparate segments of society, bring them together and create novel solutions, things that would not have existed, were those ideas or frustrations existing in isolation. Innovation should be something that is collaborative, that really pushes the boundaries and also that hopefully works, although we're big subscribers to the idea that you can also fail fast and that sometimes it's through failure that you create the most impactful ideas.

Q: What are the qualities or characteristics of a strong innovation team?

MR: A strong innovation team should have multiple diverse perspectives, and I mean diverse in every sense of the word. It goes without saying that you should have the diversity of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and background. That's kind of the sine qua non of a great innovation team, but you should also have diversity in professional perspectives. So for instance, at the Center for Digital Health we have not just physicians and psychologists, but anthropologists, engineers, computer scientists and people from for-profit business. We have patients, community health advocates and folks from nonprofits. You also want a diversity of age. You want some folks that are further along in their career or in their years and high schoolers or kids in college to help contribute. It's through that wide variety of life experiences, perspectives and professional and personal outlooks that you can create those collisions of ideas that can transform the way that we imagine or deliver healthcare and help to promote health.

Q: What kills creative thinking within an innovation team?

MR: The need to demonstrate a certain type of return on investment in too short of a time frame is going to be one of the first things that shuts down creativity, because if you know that you have to balance your budget at the end of year one, there's no way you're going to be able to take those creative risks that may lead to the greatest developments. The second thing is lack of interdisciplinary expertise, or again going back to my earlier answer, that lack of diversity in experience and perspectives absolutely shuts down creativity. We are all most successful when we are in that mishmash of ideas and energy. If you create a team that's just filled with the same people and label it innovation, you're not going to get creativity out of it.

Innovation does not occur in a vacuum; it occurs because it has a bedrock of great science or great operational expertise or great community partnerships that have set the stage for innovation to happen. So the third thing that I think can really kill creativity is to expect people to go off and be creative without them having that underlying foundation of preexisting good science or business expertise or work-community partnerships. You really can only build great things if you have some sort of a starting point that's based in reality to go from.

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