The can opener. The airplane. The cinnamon roll. These are just a handful of things that, were I locked in a room with all the raw materials, I never could have invented. Being an employee, citizen, mother and wife consumes most of my brain power, leaving little time or energy for invention.
Yet so much of life is built on innovations like these: enhancements to and reimaginings of already useful, functional, delicious items (like the knife, the bird and the donut).
These days, the pressure to innovate is almost suffocating and nowhere more so than in hospitals, where care needs to be better, safer, faster and cheaper — ideally, yesterday. Yet we all know that innovation on demand rarely bears fruit, which is why I like "Making Innovation a Core Competency" in this issue's On the Agenda section. In it, Philip Newbold, innovation guru and president and CEO of Memorial Hospital & Health System, demystifies innovation by declaring it a competency and noting that, like any other skill or ability, we need to "spend some time learning it and practicing it" to be successful. In other words, we need to dedicate time and space — intellectually, physically and financially — to creativity. That space must comfortably house failure, too, because good ideas that don't pan out strengthen the muscles of innovation just the same. (I am sure that the first person to open a can of soup with an ax learned some valuable lessons.)
To some members of the board, an investment in developing the competency of innovation may look a lot like spending money you don't have on something that may not pan out. That's fair, but shortsighted. As Newbold says, it's an investment in the future. We don't yet know what the future holds for health care, but we better be prepared.