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CIO Unplugged 10/28/10

October 27, 2010 Ed Marx 4 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Innovation is Leadership

After 30 years of procrastination, I finally did it. I got braces. Yes, the shiny stainless steel that contributes to the bane of fragile teenage egos.

Sadly, the technology related to braces has not changed. Take, for instance, the cosmic gap between my two front teeth. The doc glued the brackets to my teeth and pulled wire through them. He will now tighten them — a slow torture lasting 2-3 years.

After the recent painful, nanometer adjustments, I lamented the fact this technology has experienced little innovation in the past fifty years. While there are magical products to make the appliance less visible, nothing has actually evolved in the clinical efficacy — a gap I liken to the size of the one between my teeth.

Best practices is a regression to the mean. Wouldn’t you agree? Our love affair with the term “best practices” is really another way of embracing the average. We are desperate for improved and enhanced ways of doing things, yet the best most of us can manage is copy someone else — a slide towards shared mediocrity.

Either innovate or perish.

Plenty of scholarly evidence exists to substantiate my critique. You cannot pick up business literature, electronic or otherwise, without reading about the dearth of innovation in our country. And I think healthcare is as fertile a ground for a good outpouring of innovation as any other vertical.

Innovation takes on many forms, from technical to transactional to cultural. Most readers should already be familiar with Christensen’s works, the Innovators Dilemma, and Innovators Solution. More recently, Christensen applied his innovation concepts to healthcare with a landmark piece, The Innovators Prescription. It’s a mandatory read for my leaders.

What can you and I do to spark innovation in healthcare and in our organizations? First, we start with our own lives; and second, our span of control.

Career mimics persona. If you are innovative, it will reflect in everything you do — work, play, relationships, etc. To stay or to become innovative, you must embrace a matching lifestyle. I don’t mean the old pat-on-the-back hug, but an embrace of lovers reunited. Do you select hobbies that wreak creativity and imagination?

One reason I’ve immersed myself in the Argentine Tango is because there are no right or wrong moves. Instead, I can take the 2-4 count patterns learned and arrange them according to the feel of the music or mood. That means I have to think afresh for every song, yet maneuver in a way that allows my partner the space to be equally artistic. Triathlon is credited for its many transformational improvements in cycling, clothing, and accessories that other sports have adopted. The sport itself continues to evolve.

The above hobbies work for me. Clearly, there are thousands of choices that can cater to your personality and ambition. The point is to pick something that stretches you. If I ever grow comfortable, I know I’ve hit stagnation. My career will imitate my life.

10-27-2010 7-05-33 PM

At work, you must be boldly intentional. While I do a fair amount of speaking on a variety of leadership-related topics, the most common request I receive is on innovation. After speaking as a keynote at the recent Computerworld’s SNW Fall Conference , the audience enthusiastically embraced the innovation message.

Innovation doesn’t just happen. You have to promote it with sound processes to help those yet uninitiated. You can have innovation portals that showcase processes and how to get involved. Set up reward systems as encouragement. Hold contests where all submissions have to be done via video, which is a creative process in itself. Recruit judges from your C-suite to ensure high visibility.

Host a Tedx event. This is a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods, or just groups of friends to organize, design, and host their own independent TED-like events. Or pick a technology that you think has potential and invite a wide variety of participants to brainstorm. This mash-up could lead to some amazing outcomes that transform clinical care.

The most pioneering ideas will come from people who are closest to the action and who are given a forum for their voice. The leaders’ function is to act as the catalyst and create an environment suitable for originality.

No single idea will transform your culture into one of innovation. Nevertheless, as you begin to mix in such ideas, processes, and events, you will have an impact, and transformation will begin to take hold. Anticipate resistance — and view it as positive feedback. If you don’t encounter resistance, double your efforts.

Live in such a way that no person could look back at your career or your life and say, “Not much changed.” Kind of like the battle between my teeth and stainless steel.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. The term “innovation” is thrown around in elitist fashion, and is often misused. There are many ways to be creative according to some theories, and a person’s style ranges from more adaptive to more innovative. A person does not “become innovative by embrac[ing] a matching lifestyle.” Edison was more adaptive; Einstein more innovative. I am sure many people would refer to Edison as an innovator, which is not correct. Everyone agrees they were both brilliant, but they had different styles for solving problems. In any case, both were also creative. Check out kaicentre.com for a taste of A-I Theory. It is substantiated by scientific research. If you’re talking about creative change, it all depends upon what type of change is needed at any particular time.

  2. The slow rate of adoption that Ed observes is partially due to the poor linkage between innovation and business results. This is difficult to define (and often poorly communicated) at the outset. One example of this can be found in the publishing industry. Only about 1 out of every 10 books are profitable for the publisher. The industry’s response has been to take on less and less new writers and publish less books – which has not increased profitability. Embracing innovation means tackling the unknown as well as potentially introducing more failures in the short term. That is a difficult message to digest in an environment where capital is scarce and the margin for errors are small.

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