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That new innovation center could make the innovation problem worse in your healthcare organization

And why what you need instead is an innovation workshop

Your organization needs an innovation workshop.

 

“It’s hard. It’s just too difficult,” a healthcare administrator recently shared with me, “But we have a new CEO starting soon and he wants to create an innovation center.”

Healthcare delivery’s innovation problem has become apparent when those managing in the middle of the organization — where strategy is executed — are beginning to express concern.

Innovating inside a healthcare delivery system is difficult. Existing structures and systems (how the work gets done) are designed to say no to new ideas. They are designed to promote profitability, efficiency, and reliability — all great pursuits for an organization but too often prevent innovation from even getting started.

So it’s no wonder the idea of carving out innovation from the rest of the operation is so appealing: without the distractions and barriers of the operation, innovators are freed to innovate!

“Innovation isn’t a core competency of many healthcare organizations,” said a respondent to a recent innovation survey from the American Hospital Association and AVIA, “The industry needs help identifying options for advancing meaningful innovation and building the structure needed to support it.”

It’s the second half of that statement that is so revealing of the report’s finding that “72% of hospitals with over 400 beds are planning to or have already built an innovation center.” An innovation center is a direct answer to the innovation core competency problem in healthcare delivery organizations.

But will it be an effective response?

The Appeal and a Paradox

The difficulty of innovation has led a growing number of healthcare delivery providers down the path of creating innovation units separate from the operation. An innovation center is usually a dedicated space outfitted with all the creative necessities. It’s often set-up and managed outside the normal org chart and management requirements. It is staffed by employees with skills to fulfill the center’s innovation model.

The appeal of the innovation center idea is apparent — by design it overcomes the distractions and barriers that often prevent innovation. Innovation centers create innovation. They produce innovative things. And they do so because of their deliberate focus on innovation.

But the experiences of some early corporate diffusors of an idea similar to the innovation center — the innovation lab — prove cautionary and may be an indicator of what’s to come. Nordstrom, Coca-Cola, The New York Times, Disney, Microsoft, among others have all scaled back or eliminated their once promising innovation lab efforts.

It seems that translating innovation back into the operation proved more difficult than originally anticipated.

“It’s time to ditch your innovation lab,” was the title of a VentureBeat commentary assessing the downscaling announcements.

“Rather than just a team focused on innovation, it’s now everyone’s job,” said a Nordstrom spokesperson at the time of Nordstrom’s decision to shut down its lab.

In fact, one observation from a report compiled by digital product studio Made by Many might end up being the definitive conclusion on innovation labs: “… we found that the innovation lab model often promises a lot without delivering quite so much in terms of tangible success.”

Producing Enabling Innovation

These thoughts are indications that innovation centers might exacerbate the innovation problem in healthcare delivery organizations, not solve it. And if that’s the case what’s an innovation-hungry healthcare delivery organization to do?

It’s not the innovation center (or lab) that is the problem in my estimation — it’s the type of innovation it focuses on that proves problematic. And it’s only problematic because the innovation being pursued in the innovation center isn’t the type of innovation organizations were seeking when the strategy was created.

An innovation center produces emerging innovation — futuristic technology, what-if scenarios, pioneering business models, and the like. The issue in an innovation-poor environment is that most of the organization (departments, service lines, administrators, etc.) isn’t searching for those things. Let’s go back to the survey respondent’s comments, “The industry needs help identifying options for advancing meaningful innovation and building the structure needed to support it.”

Most of the organization is on the hunt for enabling innovation — innovation that makes a job easier, an experience better, moves an operating strategy forward, and the like.

Emerging innovation may be important to the future of the business. Enabling innovation is essential to making healthcare better for patients, providers, and employees right now. It’s critical to the operational leader meeting and exceeding job expectations. It’s necessary to the step-by-step nature of how healthcare transformation actually happens.

It also creates the structure that will allow emerging innovation to become useful in the future.

So instead of innovation centers I think healthcare delivery organizations need innovation workshops to bring innovation where it’s needed most: directly to the operation.

The Innovation Workshop

A workshop is a place to produce useful things. It has similarities to a lab: experiments, investigations, observations, and such. But a lab does those things to discover. A workshop does those things to solve problems.

The innovation workshop embraces projects directly connected to solving problems and executing operational strategy.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to innovation workshops. They can be permanent or temporary. They can live in a department or be placed on wheels and move around to where they’re needed next. They may employ in-house resources, or be operated by a partner, or a mixture of both.

They are required to have capabilities (facilitation, technical, domain expertise skills, and the like), resources (agency over people, process, and technology decisions to prototype solutions), financial support, be commissioned to navigate the bureaucracy, and exist as part of the operation.

Innovation workshops would give administrators a path forward to solving real and immediate business problems. The work would build on itself, identifying new needs and implementing new solutions along the way. They could deliver innovation at scale throughout an organization by making innovation available to everyone that needs it.

Innovation workshops would produce the enabling innovation required for healthcare transformation by embracing the constraints and affordances present in the operating environment.

Because when innovation is part of the operation it can answer specific questions, solve real problems, and foster strategy execution. That doesn’t happen when something has been conceived in a lab’s sterile environment. The best place for enabling innovation is right there where it’s needed as a part of the operation.

And that place is in an innovation workshop.

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