by: Gregory Makoul, PhD MS
What is innovation? There are many answers to that question, not all of them helpful. It’s more than a new idea, process or tool. It’s more than improvement, more than being creative, and more than commercialization.
Innovation is transformative. At root, I see innovation as Radical Common Sense. Common Sense because, when people take the time to step back and identify the real problem to be solved, viable solutions become more readily apparent and actionable. Radical because people rarely take – or feel that they have the permission or need to take – time to step back and do that essential work. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Mark W Johnson reinforces the notion that the key to disruptive innovation is offering a simpler, more accessible, or more convenient option that can improve people’s lives. Pretty consistent with Radical Common Sense.
But invoking the words Common Sense does not mean that innovation is easy. It requires a very different way of thinking, doing, and reflecting on – even questioning – what’s being done. Asking why we are doing it this way, looking at things with fresh eyes, involving people with very different frames-of-reference: None of these things sound hard, but they seem to be.
Why? Whether in healthcare or other endeavors, most people focus only on dealing with the immediate tasks at hand. At some level, this is understandable, given the number of important tasks. But it’s also the source of one of the scariest lines in the English language: This is the way we have always done it.
Consider this sign. In large type, right in your face so to speak, is a warning: This sign has sharp edges. Do not touch the edges of this sign. In small type at the bottom is a somewhat matter-of-fact statement: Also, the bridge is out ahead. If people focus only on the immediate, they miss the critical piece. To extend the metaphor, innovation involves seeing the big picture, noticing that the bridge is out, assessing the situation, and either building a bridge or finding a better path forward.
Innovation requires ideas and execution. If a great idea can’t or won’t be put into practice, all we have is a great idea. In other words, real innovation has practical value. The bridge has to work. For an in-depth treatment of the execution challenge, see The Other Side of Innovation. In the context of health and healthcare, we need to collaborate with patients, families, physicians, staff members, administrators, and companies to understand the kind of bridges we need and, ideally, build them together. This entails crystallizing the problems, identifying potential solutions, following through to sustain change and – just as importantly – determining how we will measure practical value. People trained in the scientific method will appreciate the logic of treating innovation as a series of disciplined experiments. The key is to ensure that we define practical value from the perspective of all involved.
This is the approach we take at CIPCI as we pursue transformation that works. Engaging the people doing the work and the people having it done has been a prominent theme with our projects, including Patient Architects, Emergency Medicine-Primary Care Coordination, Anatomy + Physiology of Primary Care, and Primary Care Office of the Future. We will continue to build these bridges, and we will continue to share what we learn along the way. Because innovation focuses on creating a better future, together. Common sense.