Every day, we are surrounded by the fruits of innovation. The clothes we wear, the ways we commute from one place to the next, the tools we use to perform our jobs and the buildings we inhabit all contain a map tracing back to the innovations that made them possible. At first, we sought shelter in caves. Soon, mobile shelters made of animal hides. Then, rocks and stones gave way to clay and mud before we began building structures made of wood and bricks, and eventually metal and glass. Today, we can build a shelter made of carbon dioxide-filled concrete blocks. It is in our nature to seek new ways to meet our needs.
Health care, the shelter we all surround ourselves with when it comes to our professional lives, also tells us a story of innovation from the past to the present and into the future. Practices that were once cutting edge now seem archaic. (Anyone gone to the doctor for a good old-fashioned bloodletting recently?) Those hollowed-out tubes of wood early clinicians first used to infer the inner workings of the body now look ancient compared to the mechanized and magnetized hollow tube of an MRI machine. While the why that sits at the core of caring for others’ health will always be the same, the who, what, when, where and how of that act will continue to evolve every time someone thinks the powerful thought: “There has to be a better way.”
Rarely, however, does innovation happen in a vacuum or is made reality by just one individual. Thomas Edison may have held the patent for the lightbulb, but the invention wouldn’t have been a success without the work of Lewis Howard Latimer who created better carbon filaments to make it practical for everyday use. Neil Armstrong’s foot may have been the first to touch down on the moon, but his one small step could not have happened without the giant leap made in the mind of Katherine Johnson as she calculated the trajectory equations for putting a craft into orbit around the Earth.
An innovation primer
Together over 2023, we explored the role that power skills play in teamwork and team leadership. To remind everyone, “power skills” are those human-centered skills that complement the hard skills of technical expertise. These skills, previously referred to as “soft skills,” include communication, social and emotional intelligence, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, professional attitude, work ethic, career management and intercultural fluency.
In 2024, we will collectively look at the impact each of these power skills have on driving and delivering successful innovation. A good place to start this shared journey is to level-set on what we are talking about when we discuss innovation. In Larry Keeley, Helen Walters, Ryan Pikkel and Brian Quinn’s book, “Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs,” the authors lay out the different elements that one could focus on related to the innovation of products and services. They group these 10 types of innovation around configuration, offering and experience.
A configuration innovation is one that focuses on the activities that drive the creation of a product/service. “Ten Types of Innovation” describes the four types of configuration-based innovations as:
- Profit model. The way the product/service makes money.
- Network. The connections with others that create value through the product/service.
- Structure. The alignment of talent and assets to create the product/service.
- Process. The methods for doing the work to create the product/service.
In health care, switching from a fee-for-service to value-based care model is a profit model-related, configuration-based innovation. Bringing a care clinic into a retail pharmacy facility is a network-related, configuration-based innovation. A health system integrating their facilities leadership into the planning, design and construction process is both a structure- and process-related, configuration-based innovation.
An offering-based innovation is one that focuses on innovations to the product/service itself. The book describes two types of offering-based innovation:
- Product/service performance. The features and functionality that distinguish the product/service from its competitors.
- Product/service system. Complementary products/services to the original.
Adding networked performance sensors to a chiller would be a product performance-related, offering-based innovation. Developing a new fire-resistant siding to an existing line would be a product system-related, offering-based innovation.
The final four types of innovation described in “Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs” are those focused on the experience of consuming the product/service. Experience-based innovations are:
- Service. The support enhancements that surround a product/service offering.
- Channel. The way a product/service is delivered to customers.
- Brand. The representation of the product/service and business that provides it.
- Customer engagement. The distinctive ways an interaction with a customer is fostered.
Adding a chatbot to answer basic customer questions would be a service-related, experience-based innovation. Offering your product through a third-party supplier would be a channel-related, experience-based innovation. Merging a physicians’ office with a local health system and renaming the medical office building would be a brand-related, experience-based innovation. Providing telehealth services would be a customer engagement-related, experience-based innovation.
Exploring the relationship between power skills and innovation
So, now we have a basic understanding of the types of innovation on which you can focus your activities. But unless you are Rita Moreno, Kristin Chenoweth or Sheryl Lee Ralph (all unarguably triple threats), you are going to need the help and support of others who have complementary skill sets to turn your innovation into a reality. To gain that help and support, you need to leverage your power skills to effectively work with those other individuals. In future articles, we will look at the role each power skill plays in successfully driving innovation.
Everyone has the potential to drive innovation. It is inherent to the human experience to seek new ways to perform old actions, add new skills to our sturdy tool bag, and find new locales for abiding interactions. Whether you are part of a team tasked with maintaining a health care facility, or to design and construct that facility, or perhaps help to support those other teams with the products or services your organization offers, within you is the spirit, expertise and experience to think through innovations, and the ability to turn those thoughts into actions. Join with us as we collectively leverage our power skills to improve our innovation skills. Eureka!