Inspiring Innovation in Healthcare
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Five key elements to help solve difficult and complex issues.
Personally, I believe that innovation lives within everyone. We all have “invented” things, only to discover someone else already had the idea. Think of it this way: If you did not know it existed, then in effect you invented it too. You just were not the first to document the idea. The mental process is the same. Timing is the only difference. So maybe you won’t get a patent on this idea. It still reveals you have the creative mind of an inventor.
I also believe that a core principle of innovation can be found in nature – for example in the phenomenon of the cross-pollination of plants where strengths of two individual plants contribute to the creation of a third, unique plant. Likewise, when humans innovate, we often take ideas we are familiar with in one context and combine them with challenges and ideas from another context to create an entirely new solution. Integrating different perspectives and points of view give us this power to invent.
Without question the motivation to innovate is within everyone as well, and shows itself when we encounter a problem we need to solve. We address it in a unique way based on our own personality, thought patterns, and experiences. It also has to do with why we are solving the problem at all. For example, if your boss or your teacher directs you to solve a problem, you will do it …and call it work. But if you choose your own problem to solve – one that is personally meaningful to you, then the process can be quite engaging. Even joyful.
Think about it – the games and hobbies we play for fun are actually challenges in creative problem solving. Whether fishing or Minecraft, we are engaging in creative problem solving.
The technology of today is built on the inventions of yesterday. It truly is the act of creative problem solving that advances us all and improves the human condition. Had we never invented anything, we would still be living in trees or caves. But gradually, humans developed ways to create fire, metal, and wheels, then on to machines, electronics, and so on. This led to the level of advanced technology we have today – which of course is nothing compared to what we’ll have tomorrow. Every little innovation we make is a tiny piece of the foundation of our future.
Necessities in medical imaging
“Necessity is the mother of invention”, or so the old saying goes. But what qualifies as a necessity? For hospitals and imaging centers, there are myriad needs and problems in many different areas: long patient wait times in X-ray departments… the need for more effective infection-control measures… goals for higher patient satisfaction… the need for and both physician and employee retention – and the list goes on.
Let’s start with the problem of long patient waiting times. If you consistently find a hundred people crowded in to your waiting room at 3:00 p.m., the answer is not to make a bigger waiting room. The hospital has the capacity to handle those hundred people. By 3:00 a.m. there will be no or very few people still waiting. So all 100 people that were waiting in there this afternoon will have been taken care of. The problem is that people show up at a rate and at times that cause bottlenecks.
If we borrow an innovation from manufacturing we would consider the idea of Takt time. The idea is to make every step of the production process the same length, so there are no bottlenecks. So rather than look at the size of the waiting room, the facility should look at the amount of time that each step in the process takes If it takes longer, for example, to register someone than it does to shoot the images, then that could be the issue. If it takes longer to do the examination then it does for the patient to change clothes that could be an issue. If the facility can redesign the various steps to be the same in terms of time duration, then the process would begin to move very efficiently.
I think of this like the steps on an escalator. Each person on the escalator goes up the escalator at the same speed the steps moves. The next step appears; the next person steps on the step and off they go. Each step in the process takes approximately the same amount of time. If you could regulate a hospital’s imaging process in a similar way, then that would really make things run efficiently.
Now, the preceding was a very simple example. What happens when the attempt to innovate involves highly difficult and complex issues? In such a situation, I believe there are five key elements that we should focus on.
Innovation element #1: diversity
First, we need to have diversity – diversity of thinking, diversity of people, diversity of ideas. This allows for a cross-pollination of various perspectives and experiences that a broad spectrum of individuals bring to the party. So if you’re the person that’s often tasked as the problem-solver, consider engaging folks that have different backgrounds to help you address the next problem that arises.
Innovation element #2: fearlessness
The next ingredient is fearlessness. You have to be brave, because you’re inevitably going to come up with ideas that people won’t like. They’re going to laugh, and ask how could that possibly work? They won’t understand what you can see clearly as the solution. Just don’t take it personally, and remember they’re not being critical of you. Simply persevere and show them the value of your innovation. Once they understand they’ll be more receptive the next time around – and, you’ll be less sensitive to their initial objections.
Innovation element #3: insight
The third of the five key elements in innovation is insight, or what is commonly referred to as domain knowledge. Even if you don’t initially understand the problem situation in its entirety, if you keep studying it you will learn more and more about it and eventually become more expert.
Innovation element #4: tenacity
Fourth, innovation requires incredible tenacity. You have to stick to it. Don’t give up. Keep working on that new idea. Not perfect yet? Rework it from a fresh perspective. Keep trying different approaches and modeling them in your mind. This is easy to say and difficult to do – stick to it and keep coming back to it. You will find a solution.
Innovation element #5: passion
The fifth key principle of innovation is passion. It’s the passion for solving the problem which will supply you with tenacity to keep going – to keep ideating, even when progress is slow and you become discouraged. Remember, if you keep thinking about the problem, and you keep visualizing it and you keep working on it… if you’re reading about it in books, researching it on the internet, talking to other people, writing things down, drawing pictures, laying out plans, letting it rest for awhile then coming back to it again… the passion that motivates you will eventually bring you to the solution.
To summarize, there are many, many pressing problems we face that need solutions. To help develop the innovative solutions they need, you need five components in the mix: diversity, fearlessness, insight, tenacity and passion. You have to be open, you have to be encouraging to yourself and to others. You have to focus on problems that you are truly passionate about solving, or you won’t have the drive you need to keep slogging away.
And remember, if the solution you come up with is even a little bit better than what existed before, you have played a crucial part in improving the human condition and making everyone’s life just a little bit better – and you’ve proven yourself a successful innovator!
How do you motivate yourself and your team to innovate? I’d like to hear your ideas!
Todd Minnigh is Vice President of Global Service Sales at Carestream. Todd delivered a presentation on innovation at the 2018 American Hospital Radiology Administrator’s Conference (AHRA).
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