An Introduction to the Process of Innovation
The health care industry can learn a lot from other industries where deliberate processes for innovation are more common. 1,2,3,4 While every organization has its own process model, language, and specific methods, innovation generally proceeds along the following lines:
- Preparation. Innovative thinking requires taking a fresh look at how you do what you do, the assumptions you make, and your mental models. The potential to reframe the issue is a critical part of the innovation process that should not be glossed over.2,5,6
- Idea generation. Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling was once asked how he got such good ideas. His reply: "The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away." Research shows that innovative individuals and teams spend time brainstorming literally hundreds of ideas, practicing what psychologists and cognitive scientists call "divergent thinking" or "fluidity."7,8,9
- Selection and development. Great ideas rarely emerge fully developed in a brainstorming session. The fluid, divergent thinking of idea generation must be followed by convergent thinking. Eventually, you will need to pick out the most promising ideas and spend more time thinking about how to enhance them further and overcome potential weaknesses.1,2
- Testing and evaluation. Transitioning from the conceptual to the concrete, the next phase involves simulations and small-scale testing to overcome potential weaknesses and determine whether the ideas are truly effective.3,4
- Implementation. Small-scale trials provide proof of concept, but real impact can only come when ideas are transferred to operations for full-scale implementation.
- Sustain and spread. If an idea is successfully implemented with a positive result, then it deserves some extra effort to assure that it is sustained and spread further. Sadly, this step is often neglected.
1 Plsek PE. Creativity, innovation and quality. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press; 1997.
2 Kelly T, Littman J. The art of innovation. New York: Doubleday; 2001.
3 Dodgson M, Rothwell R. The handbook of industrial innovation. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar Publishing; 1994.
4 Afuah A. Innovation management: strategies, implementation and profits. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2003.
5 Amabile TM. The social psychology of creativity. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1983.
6 Amabile TM. How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review 1998 76(5):77-87.
Guilford JP. Creativity. Am Psychol. 1950;5(9):444-5. [PubMed]
8 Osborn A. Applied Imagination. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons; 1953.
9 Osherson DN, Smith EE, eds. An invitation to cognitive science: thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 1990.
Last updated: May 09, 2012.