The meaning of innovation

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I’ve done several interviews with journalists this week and an interesting conversation came up which made me think about how we all ascribe different meanings to things.

We were talking about innovation. We’re in a world now where budgets, demographics, public health and patient expectation are all coming together to mean that tweaking round the edges won’t be enough. I was making the point that we need to see industrial levels of innovation in the NHS to deliver a service which is fit for the future.

To me innovation should become the norm, but the discussion moved on to look at whether this was then really innovation? How can it be that innovative if everyone’s doing it?

And that’s where the point lies. In the NHS we’ve often seen innovation as creation and discovery. So we’re all beavering away creating and discovering in our own areas and putting our innovations into practice in one trust, or one service. This is a crucial part of innovation. But copying and emulating where others have already done this is perhaps even more important.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of breathtaking innovation out there. So why aren’t the rest of us copying, emulating, adopting and diffusing those across the NHS?

If our leaders can create climates where adopting the innovative and successful changes other organisations have made, is seen as just as good as developing your own, then we’ll be making huge progress towards industrial levels of innovation.

The Academy’s work will focus on helping leaders create this trusting and open culture where saying: ‘that’s a great idea, let’s make it work here’ is the norm.

2 thoughts on “The meaning of innovation

  1. And yes this can be done in safety critical and regulated environments. And yes it starts with recognising that innovation is about a lot more than just the whizz, bang and pop of medical or scientific breakthroughs – important as these are. And yes it’s about making changes, little and often, that are implemented in practice rather than just published in learned journals. And yes a positive change will remain an isolated improvement unless its implementation is diffused across an entire organisation. And yes, innovations seldom work in their initial formats – their refining needs effort, persistence and open minds. And yes, innovation depends on learning and the willingness to view mistakes as learning opportunities

    And yes change and learning are mutually reinforcing so as the pace of the former accelerates the latter must do likewise. And yes it is 30 years since Sylvia Downs warned that education enables us to be taught rather than how to learn.

    And yes it has been refreshing to teach cross functional groups in the NHS over the last three years as many participants share ideas willingly. And yes many connect with others from different Trusts and are receptive to their ideas and practices. And yes commercial organisations do create new ideas to fuel their growth, many of which are stymied by knowledge sharing hostility.

    And yes all roads lead to L(earning). And yes we have to overcome the discomfort that Charles Handy observed in professionals – the virtual bright red L plate to warn others we are still finding our way.

    And yes, I’d rather have that L plate than find myself bobbing around in icy waters because the one great breakthrough floundered on the first iceberg it encountered!