Innovation: A hollow word that means a lot

This month, columnist John Myers covers an interesting subject — the idea that employees are driven to innovate for their own purposes. That they would spend their own time, or carve out company time, to create a product or service, or improve a process that ultimately benefits the company much more than the individual employee.

In his column, Myers gives an example of a case in which that individual effort was an enormous success. But he also asks what would happen if that effort failed?

Celebrating failure

It’s been written in this magazine more than a few times that entrepreneurial failure is to be encouraged. The act of failing is sometimes a sign of pushing ideas beyond what’s commonly believed to be the limit. If the effort is successful, it could be a boon, which is why the risk is supported.

Myers also explores the other aspect of the concept, asking rhetorically, “But what if they’re ‘stealing’ time from the company by working on such projects. Could they be drawing energy away from imperative projects? How are you as a manger or executive going to deal with this? Have you thought about how you might react if it works? What if it doesn’t work? Should you punish the offenders? Should you reward them? Maybe encourage more of it? Have you thought about what you are going to do with unauthorized innovation that happens right under your nose?”

Selfless innovation

Innovation isn’t always leveraged for a competitive advantage. In this month’s cover story we look at Akron’s Children’s Hospital. While the story springs from it building a $180 million patient care facility, the article explores how sharing information and greater collaboration has led the organization to many positive outcomes.

For instance, through its partnership with Solutions for Patient Safety Network, Akron Children’s was able to exchange ideas and best practices with other children’s hospitals that led to real changes. It reduced codes outside its intensive care unit by 86 percent, a revelation that has undoubtedly been shared with and implemented by other hospitals across the country, saving lives.

Similarly, by adopting Lean principles as an inherent part of its culture, which in part involves improved communication and greater collaboration among staffers, the hospital has generated savings of nearly $13.4 million and reduced patient wait times by more than 48,000 days since the program’s 2008 inception.

“People are, and should be, demanding accountability from health care,” says William Considine, president and CEO, of Akron Children’s Hospital. “There’s a lot of talk about how expensive health care is and we wanted to be able to look people straight in eye and tell them that we’re doing everything we can to be as efficient as we possibly can be.”

Innovation, as a word, is overused nearly to the point of meaninglessness. But what it stands for is as significant as ever. Today’s ever-mounting challenges require the grit of every individual, regardless of the personal payoff, because innovation that arrives though selflessness often has the greatest impact.

Adam Burroughs is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton. Reach him at (440) 250-7062 or [email protected]