What is Innovation? Part 2

In this two part blog series, I’m exploring the definition of “innovation” in an effort to bring clarity to a word that has been overused and genericized.

In Part 1, innovation was defined as increasing benefits and/or reducing costs.  The blog went on to explore in detail the top half of this innovation equation.  In this part, the exploration will move to the denominator:

What is cost?

To explore (what is cost), I came to the idiom: at all costs

What are all these costs?

  • Lives lost in war?  The effort to win the war?
  • Resources to achieve a goal?  The effort to reach that goal?
  • Money spent?  The effort to earn that money?


Indeed, (at all costs) can be translated to (regardless of effort).  It is logical that cost is relative to effort which itself can be defined as energy spent on work.

We work … to make money … to buy a product.  Logical.

But I’m hung up on this notion that if our goal is to reduce cost, it is suggesting we reduce effort?  Not logical.

Lessons learned from baseball include:
“Control what you can control: attitude and effort.”

I explored attitude and effort a few weeks ago in a blog post on caring and courage.  The idea of giving less effort just didn’t sit right with me when first meditating on this part of innovation.

But if attitude and effort are two things we can control…, what is control anyway?

If we give maximum effort all the time, is that really controlling effort?  Is the foot on the gas pedal all the way down controlling the car?  Or is that car out of control?  Interesting.

What is the control of attitude and effort?

Is this to mean we have choice of attitude and effort?  What are we asking the baseball player to do here?  Choose a “good” attitude.  Choose an effort.

Choose an effort?  What effort?  Full effort?

It feels right to consider that the choice in attitude is to choose a “good” or a “bad” attitude.  Choosing a good attitude is one that promotes conditions for health.  This was defined as “caring” in part 1 of this blog.

This is making sense, but now I’m back on benefits, quality, what is good, and health.

This is an exploration of cost… of effort.

What effort are we choosing?  Is there good and bad effort?

In the book, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement;  author Eliyahu M. Goldratt takes us to the floor of a manufacturing plant and explores many concepts, including a notion that “always working” is not the most efficient way to run a business.  The concept is resisted by the characters in the book, rightfully so, as it is not intuitive.

The Goal masterfully uses the scientific method and Socratic thinking to teach lean manufacturing.  Among the many lessons learned is that (always working) is not a solution to (improve plant efficiency).

If we have a choice in effort, is the effort we put forth an effort that is well thought out?  Scientifically?  Socratically?  Thoughtfully?

Aha.  This is the old debate of “working hard” versus “working smart.”

Cost.  Effort.  Work.

The relationships of these make sense.  However, even after reading The Goal, the notion of minimizing effort is still not sitting right.

I need to zoom back out to the big picture: innovation

There’s an example I’ve used in class for years about a swimmer at the beach.  The undertow is bad and they’ve drifted far off shore and suddenly realize they need to get back.  This can be a scary situation.

As the lesson goes, I ask the students, “what is smarter, putting your head down and swimming towards shore as vigorously as possible, only coming up for air when you need it?  OR, slowing down, thinking, and looking at the waves?”

Swim in with the waves.  Rest between waves.  Swim smart.

Work hard with the waves.  Take breaks.  Observe.  Be thoughtful about your return to shore…  your return to conditions favorable for health.


It’s not to minimize effort…, but to maximize effort.  Using ALL of your effort can be wasteful, if some of your effort is used without the waves.

Work Hard AND Work Smart (with the waves).

So, what is innovation?

Innovation is increasing benefits over reducing cost.  This is value based care.

Innovation is improving conditions favorable for health and maximizing effort.  It is working towards (what is good) through (hard AND smart work).

Innovation is to be caring and thoughtful.

Would love to hear your feedback on this exploration of innovation.

Health and Happiness for All


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