Innovationeering: Creativity is dead ... long live innovation

It is equally fascinating and frustrating that one of the most important characteristics increasingly valued by healthcare and business leaders alike is also one of the hardest to define. "Innovation" is not an ethereal creative wind that blows through the corridors of your organization, somehow multiplied by implementing "Casual Fridays," bringing dogs to work and setting up a Ping-Pong table in the break room.

Those metaphors for a creative culture have become representative of the concept of innovation but are not its substitute. I'm not here to knock creativity — it's an obvious and integral prerequisite for building an innovation architecture, just as speed alone doesn't define the professional athlete but is a part of a complex mosaic that can be cultivated into a high performer.

Innovation is a discipline to be practiced. It is metrics-driven and process-oriented. Innovation is reducing transcendent thought to practice; in other words, it's putting ideas to work. Even an inventor isn't synonymous with an innovator, just as a pilot and an astronaut differ. They share traits and skills, but there is simply more gravity associated with the latter (no pun intended). All patent holders are inventors, but they are not necessarily innovators. (Later in this series we'll explore the relationship between technology transfer and innovation capacities.)

As one of the original chief innovation officers in healthcare, I have observed with pride and optimism the proliferation of that title, innovation centers and incubator and accelerator programsBecker's, for example, now reports annually on the hospitals and health systems with innovation programs (from 25 of them in 2015 to 66 in 2018). Innovation has taken its place alongside patient experience and strategy as a discipline that was once thought to be invisible and immature, but now is central to the identity and success of institutions of all sizes and in every geography.

The propagation and proselytizing of innovation is timely. We've all received the memo about unsustainable healthcare costs, shifting disease burden and the expanding aging population. Solutions to these pressing problems and unmet needs require a more systematic and logical approach — enterinnovation. Using validated instruments, developing and optimizing filtering processes, enlisting domain experts and strategically deploying capital are all part of the contemporary innovation playbook.

The best news is that innovation is a team sport. It is accelerated and expanded through collaboration; even organizations that may compete for patients can share new ideas that may complement each other, finding that a key on one campus fits a lock on another. That's not unlike the ethos of discovery science, where we share breakthroughs for the common good.

Furthermore, innovation always occurs best at the intersection of knowledge domains. Healthcare leaders can't afford to be myopic and concentrate solely in our sector.Despite the fact that it is the largest concentrated component of the American economy, healthcare must invite expertise (and investment) from other industries, many of which have more longevity or facility as innovators.

The purpose of this inaugural installment in the "Innovationeering" series is to connect and level set. We need to be working with the same understanding of nomenclature and practice if we are to collaborate to solve big problems for large populations in faster and cheaper ways (also known as "value-based innovation," a subject for a later installment).

I don't have to describe to this sophisticated audience how difficult it is to innovate at scale. Innovation is arduous, nonlinear, fraught with failure and long to success. It's my hope that this column will serve as a vehicle to share best practices and lower the barriers to global partnership andto facilitate and accelerate innovation by promoting creative collisions.

I can't imagine anyone being offended by being called an innovator: It is becoming a coveted consideration for individuals and institutions, and it is becoming synonymous with quality and thought leadership. Now it's up to us to leverage our respective experience and expertise into collective success.

Let's build a community of colleagues who optimize innovation and perpetuate an open exchange. Reach out and tell me what you're thinking, doing and innovating.

Author's note: I am proud to partner with Becker's Hospital Review to present a recurring innovation thought leadership forum. The title "Innovationeering" was chosen to reflect the level of sophistication we intend to bring to these vignettes and their practical nature to provide actionable information. I favor this portmanteau because it harkens the expertise required of "engineering" and the perseverance and vision of the "pioneer," both of which are needed to be a successful innovator. As the series unfolds, we will explore the maturing culture of innovation in healthcare that has become so vital to delivering improved outcomes, experiences and economics. We also invite your input on topics you would like to see us address that would make you and your enterprise more innovative.

Thomas J. Graham, MD, is a clinical professor and director of strategic planning and innovation in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Graham, formerly the inaugural chief innovation officer of Cleveland Clinic, is the author of Innovation the Cleveland Clinic Way.

More articles on innovation:
Former Partners CIO: How to fail-proof healthcare innovation
18 hospital innovation initiatives launched in 2019
AMA: Innovation needed for chronic disease management

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