Innovation as a Cliché

For the last six years, I’ve written this blog under the title “Medinnovation” with the tag line, “Where Innovation, Health Reform, and Physician Practices Meet.”

The novelty of use of word “innovation” is wearing thin.  And for good reasons.

Sad to say,  as a piece in the Wall Street Journal says. “Companies love to say they innovate, but the term has begun to lose its meaning.” Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies, and even innovation days.

  • Companies last year mentioned “innovation” 33,552 times in their annual and quarterly reports.
  • Publishers issued 255 books in the last 90 days with “innovation” in their titles.
  • 43% of 260 companies  said they have appointed chief “innovation” officers.
  • 28% of business schools use the word “innovation” in their mission statements.

So what is “innovation”?

Clayton Christenson, Professor at Harvard Business School and author of the The Innovators Dilemma classifies innovation into three types:

  • Efficiency innovations, which produce the same product more cheaply, such as  automating credit checks.
  • Sustaining innovations, which turn good products into better ones, such as the hybrid cars.
  • Disruptive innovations, which transform, expensive, complex products into affordable, simple ones, such as the shift from, mainframe to personal computers.

As for me, I tend to be pragmatic. I define “innovating” as trying what works and doesn’t work, learning from what doesn’t work, and trying again to see what works.

I fret about writing in cliches  –  in launching overarching platitudes that sound good in the abstract but are impractical in the concrete.

I prefer innovations  that work in clinical practice settings that produce more revenue with less effort and better results as deployed by patients, general physicians, and less specialized personnel. I seek win-win-win innovations – win for patients, win for physicians, win for the system. Mine is a winsome approach, but sometimes I lose some, too.

I try, sometimes unsuccessfully,  to avoid innovations that are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I ask myself : “Am I blowing smoke? Does what I’m saying  have any substance for the typical physician  or patient?”

Richard L. Reece is a retired pathologist and the author of The Health Reform Maze: A Blueprint for Physician Practices. He blogs about health reform, medical innovation, and physician practices at medinnovationblog.

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