Naomi Fried, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital
How does innovation happen in healthcare organizations?
Turns out, innovation doesn’t happen by chance. Rather, there is a predictable six step “innovation lifecycle” that governs the innovation process in the healthcare setting. Understanding this lifecycle and especially the “o-gap” (more on that below) can help innovators and organizations innovate more rapidly and effectively. The innovation lifecycle is comprised of the following 6 stages:
Stage 1: Initiate
An innovation’s lifecycle begins with the identification of a problem or opportunity. Initially, an innovator defines the vision and objectives, identifies available resources, and establishes the scope of the project. Initiation is not typically a difficult stage, but it’s an important one to get right and, if skipped or not done fully, can cause problems later. Innovators may focus on a grass roots problem or choose to tackle a strategic, institutional challenge.
Stage 2: Ideate
After initiation, comes ideation. Often innovators confuse ideation with innovation, but ideation is a piece of the larger cycle. It involves sourcing, creating, evaluating and filtering ideas to meet the innovator’s vision. Brainstorming is one method for ideation, but I also encourage innovators to borrow ideas or seek inspiration from other industries, or even competitors. For example, a Boston Children’s Hospital nurse borrowed the idea of a Mylar-lined hat for re-warming babies undergoing heart surgery (which requires cooling them to about 82 °F) – after seeing Mylar blankets used to warm marathon runners.
Stage 3: Pilot
After harvesting the best ideas, innovators must build and test a mock up or functional prototype. We support the pilot stage at Boston Children’s with our Innovestment Grant and FastTrack Innovation in Technology programs. To succeed in the pilot phase, innovators need to develop a clear set of metrics and avoid moving “goal posts.” Failures in the pilot stage can be a form of success and an opportunity for learning.
After a successful pilot, an innovator can often face a substantial adoption barrier. In an ideal world, new ideas would be easily and broadly adopted with little or no resistance. But in real life, people are often reluctant to embrace change and innovation. I have coined the term “operationalization gap” or “o-gap” to explain the challenge of diffusing a new idea broadly across an organization. O-gaps are common in large, siloed organizations, less common (or narrower) in smaller or hierarchical organizations.
Leadership support, additional funding, training, change management and communication can all help close the o-gap. My advice is to recognize the o-gap and plan for it. Engaging stakeholders early on can make all the difference in successfully disseminating an innovation.
Step 4: Operationalize
Operationalization occurs when a pilot is broadly implemented. During this phase, an organization begins to realize the innovation’s full value.
Step 5: Optimize
Many innovators treat operationalization as the last stage of an innovation. But it’s not. In the optimization phase, an innovation is often further improved and customized by end users.
Step 6: Obsolete or repeat
At some point, an innovation is no longer serving the user’s need. This could result from changing workflow, changing needs, or the availability of new technology. During the obsolete or repeat phase, its time to retire the innovation and begin the lifecycle again.
Since I developed the innovation lifecycle several years ago, I have tested it against hundreds of innovation projects and it continues to explain and predict the process I have observed.
Understanding and leveraging this lifecycle can help innovators be more effective – both individuals and organizations trying to develop meaningful programmatic support for healthcare innovation.