What is Innovation? Part 1

For the past twelve years, my academic scholarship has been primarily focused on teaching a process of innovation.  This is an area of great interest and philosophical debate.  As a process, innovation can be described in stages of product design starting with an initial investigation, then a definition phase, brainstorming phase, and so on, until a final execution phase.  In various courses, I’ve broken down these stages into 3, 4 or 5 steps, and used catchy terms like Stanford Biodesign’s “Identify, Invent, Implement” process.

From a process perspective, whether it’s (identify, invent, implement) or current favorite (discover, describe, develop, deliver): the basis of this “innovation” process is not a secret.

That being said, the term “innovation” itself has been overused and become so generic, its meaning has been lost.  I wish to find it.  The following two blog post series is an exploration of this word “innovation” in search for a useful definition, for clarity, and for enlightenment.

What is Innovation?

My favorite definition to date comes from Scott Burleson, friend and innovation expert at The AIM Institute.  Scott describes innovation as, “an improvement in value” and then further defines value as benefits over cost.

(innovation) = (value increase) = (benefits) / (costs)

To explore this topic further, I’m going to dive deep into the definitions of each of these words proposed by Scott.  In part 1, the focus is on “benefits.”

What is benefits?

The root of the word benefit comes from the Latin bene facere  which translates to ‘do good (to).’

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig explores the concept of “good” in great detail by examining the word “quality.”  In this fantastic journey of quality, Pirsig makes a case that it is intrinsic, existing in both the romantic and classical thought processes.  Indeed, the book explores quality as The Buddha, as Tao, and as what is good.

Quality as what is good feels like common sense to a professor who has to assign grades by (quality of work) or (what is good work).  And the notion proposed by Pirsig that it exists in both romantic and classical thought processes is key to the topic of assigning grades to students in the arts as well as the sciences.  This can further be extended to commercial innovation in the sense of both psychology and economics; often considered two unique domains.  Tying together emotional and rational purchase decisions can be explored further in its own right.

Benefits. Quality. What is Good.

What is good?

What is good work in an engineering class versus what is good work in a poetry class may seem subjective.  What is good flavor to one person might not be good flavor to another person.  The notion that “good” is subjective is a complicated road to go down, because it suggests that good is whatever you like it to be.  If that were the case, how then can grades be assigned by any other means than a subjective measure of good???

What if we define “good” another way?

I’m biased towards the areas of “Health Innovation, Education, and Art” as called out in the description of DiMeo (dot) info.

So, I’m going to propose a definition of “good” as:
conditions favorable for health

What are conditions favorable for health?

For this, I’ll draw from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and consider our most basic needs such as air, water, food, and shelter.

It is a natural instinct to seek conditions favorable for health for all living things.  From bacteria, which “like” conditions such as warmth and moisture, to a stray cat that might like to be under a parked car with a warm engine and safe from the falling rain.  These would be “good” conditions for bacteria or a cat (not that I’m comparing the two).

So far I’m building a hypothesis that:

(benefits) = (what is good) = (conditions favorable for health)

Looking back to Scott’s original definition of innovation as benefits over costs, then a new proposed definition might look like this:

(innovation) = (value increase) = (conditions favorable for health) / (costs)

Indeed, this is the thought process at the root of our nation’s focus on value-based care as defined by CMS.  This topic is explored in detail by organizations such as Deloitte and Optum.

If this formula is correct, then it is not enough just to have conditions favorable for health, but rather, to promote such conditions.  After all, if innovation is indeed a process; a process is active, not static.

Innovation is a process of improving health and reducing costs.

What is a process of improving health?

Caring.  To Care.

But this is just the top half of the equation.

Today the focus was on benefits and related that to quality, what is good, conditions for health, and ultimately the act of caring.

In part 2, I’ll begin to explore the bottom half of the equation: costs.

Your thoughts on the topic are encouraged in the discussion below.

Health & Happiness for All
Andrew

 

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