Giving Meaning to Innovation


Innovation. I hear this word many times a day— innovation in healthcare, strategic innovation, the call to be more innovative, etc. According to a report cited by the Wall Street Journal, companies mentioned some variant of the word “innovation” 33,528 times in annual and quarterly reports in 2011. This was a 64% increase from five years prior. I can only imagine the use of the word has grown exponentially since then.

Since innovation is so ubiquitous, I’m sometimes left wondering what people actually mean by the word. It’s time to clean through the clutter and define innovation meaningfully.

I’ve discussed this topic with my colleagues here at Intermountain business development, and we all agreed that there is a common, foundational thread of meaning in all the uses of the term we have heard—innovation is the product of thinking differently and aspiring to be transformational, not new.

Thinking Differently
Innovation comes from having the freedom, bandwidth, and curiosity to let one’s mind wander into new ways of thinking. It can’t be approached as yet another task to check off one’s to-do list. (Attend meeting with Dr. Smith - check. Draft executive summary for new business plan - check. Innovate -check.) Innovation, unfortunately, doesn’t work that way.

Innovation requires different thinking. It starts with taking the time to see things from a new and different perspective. A new vantage point allows teams to critically solve problems and improve upon processes that everyone else deemed “just how things are done here." Innovation’s end goal is to improve the experience of those who interact with, or who are impacted by, the innovation itself.

In his book Competing Against Luck, Harvard Business School professor, Intermountain board member, and renowned innovation expert Clayton Christensen, provides a framework for thinking differently about innovation that I highly recommend. Called Jobs Theory, Christensen prompts innovators to clearly understand the job to be done first and then develop focused solutions that help customers make the progress they desire in a certain circumstance. This innovation framework is so helpful because it requires innovators to think differently about the real job they are trying to address and then actually move forward with innovations that are targeted and meaningful.

Transformational, Not New
Innovation is not about instilling a new change or launching a new project within an organization. It’s the result of synthesizing something new—an idea, project, or initiative—into something transformational, thought-provoking, or potentially problem-solving. New ideas are often tied to the past. They might make incremental improvements on what is already in place. Truly innovative ideas turn a problem on its head and reveal a solution that was impossible to see before. A solution with measurable and attainable results.

Innovation in Practice
A few years ago, Intermountain Healthcare launched an initiative called ProComp that set out to improve the quality and reduce the cost of surgical procedures within our facilities. First, we compared what surgical supplies physicians used in comparison to one another. Quickly, we realized that the preference and cost of supplies varied widely among the physicians, and interestingly enough, most supplies were equally effective regardless of price.

What happened next is where the innovation took place. Intermountain could have demanded that all physicians use the less expensive, but equally effective surgical device every time. But instead, they decided to take a step back, think differently about the behavior they wanted to change, and developed a solution that was truly innovative—they gave the physicians all the data.

Intermountain presented all the data to physicians: the surgical device used, the cost of the device, the associated patient outcome, and the name of the physician who used the device. Physicians could see who among their peers was giving quality care at a lower cost. They then sought those physicians out for advice on how they could do so too. Soon enough physicians began to prefer the less expensive, but equally effective devices by choice, not by force. Since the launch of this initiative in 2013, Intermountain staff and physicians have become avid supporters of the program, and Intermountain has saved over $100 million.