Generating and implementing new ideas and processes doesn't have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money.
Often, our idea of innovation is shaped by the headlines—the really cool things businesses like Amazon or Google are doing that don't seem possible for others. Hospitals and other businesses often find barriers to innovation, like no time or budget. And if a project gets the go-ahead, it can veer off the rails, like when an organization spends thousands of dollars on an app nobody wants to use, designs a solution that costs too much to implement, or the innovation goes against an organization's values.
At the 2017 Annual Leadership Conference, Umber Dickerson, assistant director, Business Operations and Strategic Planning at Texas Children's Hospital, shared her organization's strategy for innovation. She says the "goldilocks" of innovation are the practical and not very glamourous ideas. For example, nurses at Texas Children's co-designed a prototype IV pole that allowed them to fasten an oxygen tank more securely than what they were previously using.
Dickerson says for innovation to occur, an organization must have a good culture, a willingness to take risks, an idea pipeline, creativity, openness to thinking about a different way of doing things and leadership support.
Most hospitals have different types of teams like IT, finance, biomedicine, and strategy and business development that could innovate, but that is not their main function. "People tend to think of these teams as working on innovation, but in reality they're working on their core businesses and are not dedicated to innovation," Dickerson says. Or if teams do come up with an idea, it can be difficult for them to spend the time to vet it, assess its application across the hospital or see it through to fruition.
There's where a team of innovation interns comes into play at Texas Children's. A group of interns with varying backgrounds, degrees and levels of work experience who are seeking non-clinical experience in a hospital setting link with teams throughout the hospital to build a system of innovation. The innovation team also monitors news headlines, trends, best practices and vets ideas from the pipeline.
"The biggest core value among the group is the freedom to fail; no idea is a bad idea until proven otherwise," says Grace Karon, project manager at Texas Children's. "Healthy competition is OK. We have a white board in the intern bullpen area where they throw ideas on the wall, and they start every week asking what's feasible, or they make connections between different departments or someone they know who is already working on a similar idea."
Dickerson says the team considers these key questions when assessing an idea:
- Desirability: Do we want to do this?
- Viability: Should we do this? Is it part of our mission? Will it help us move forward? Can we keep it long term?
- Feasibility: Can we do this? Do we have the infrastructure? Will it strengthen us operationally?
To get a broader grasp of the issue and to build relationships, the interns will also shadow employees and clinical staff on the front line. They ask questions like, "Why do you do this that way?" Initially, teams were wary of having the interns watching them, but once they realized the interns were not there to criticize, but were asking questions to learn and help look a new ways of doing things, teams became excited.
In the last two years, the interns spent 700 hours researching best practices from other industries, circulated 22 proposals, and escalated seven of those proposals to the hospital's leadership team.
"Innovation needs people," Karon says. "It can't happen in a silo. You have to connect everyone involved and bring their ideas together. By thinking outside the box you can bring in new ideas that aren't tethered to the past or historical biases."
Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.