• Article
  • November 8, 2017

A Low-risk Approach to Innovation for Children’s Hospitals

Innovation doesn't necessarily mean "disruption." Here's how to be strategic with a smaller-scale approach.

Most people think innovation means coming up with big, radical ideas, or what business expert David Robertson calls "disruption." Companies dramatically change themselves to stay ahead of the competition, or they do more of the same thing because it was successful the first time. But for organizations like children's hospitals, innovation is likely to come from small ideas.

"The way we define innovation will affect the kind of innovation we get," says Robertson, Wharton School professor, author of The Power of Little Ideas, A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation and keynote presenter at the 2017 Annual Leadership Conference.

Robertson says innovation is about identifying a need and finding a solution that creates value. Look at products, services, business processes and business models. It can be an incrementally better version of what you already have. Innovations don't have to be incredible inventions, and can be products that may, or may not, be profitable.

"Focus on serving your customer, not fighting your competitor," he says. "Look first at your product and service, and ask, what else can we do for our customer? That's your starting place. Eventually you may be able to apply it as a competitive advantage." Robertson's low-risk, high-reward strategy can guide productive innovation discussions at your hospital. In this model, Robertson offers six tips when thinking about innovation in a children's hospital:

Reduce the focus on competition. If you only think about innovation as fighting a competitor and how you can do things better, faster and cheaper, then you tend to converge and become a commodity that's interchangeable with your competitor. Instead, focus on creating a strong relationship with your customer and identify how you can connect with them in more ways to anticipate, or respond to, their needs.

Understand the difference between creativity and innovation. To be successful, your idea has to be practical, useful and necessary. It's not enough to be new and different; it has to help solve a need in some way.

Innovate inside your existing box. Don't reinvent or think outside the box; rather, go around the box and find the opportunities. This means respecting your organization's history and the things that made your hospital great. Innovate around that core idea to make it more valuable for patients and families.

Look at the before, during and after. Follow your customer through his or her experience, at every step from beginning to end. Understand the frustration the family experiences throughout their child's health care journey. It may have nothing to do with the actual care provided.

Think about what customers are trying to do. They don't visit the hospital because they like their physicians. They go because it helps them feel better or ensures that something isn't going to make them feel worse.

Respect what the customer wants from the experience. What are the innovations that will make that overall experience better when they are visiting? How can the core services become more compelling and useful?

Defining innovation more broadly means more opportunities, but it's not always about looking at new technology, markets or customer groups. It's about asking how you can innovate around current customers. Those little ideas can become the big ideas that make a difference for children's hospitals.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.