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The Innovation Studio: How to Build a Structure for Healthcare Innovation


Pop quiz: What is the best way to increase return on investment (ROI) for your innovation efforts?

  1. Say “yes” to every idea that comes your way.
  2. Provide your team with the permission to innovate.
  3. Validate your team’s ideas.
  4. Focus on your structure of innovation over your culture of innovation.

You guessed it: The correct answer is all of the above. These four principles are the pathway to success for increasing the ROI for your innovation efforts. But there is a unique reason why these four principles lead to optimal innovation outcomes. Each principle focuses on building the structure of innovation rather than the culture. Both the structure and culture of innovation are important to organizational success, but innovation culture cannot thrive without proper structure.

In Safi Bahcall’s new book, “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries,” he explores how people’s innovation behaviors mimic the principles of physics. People, like molecules, behave differently depending on their surroundings. Therefore, how humans act when engaging in innovation depends upon the structure of their organization. Policies, physical spaces, incentives and reporting structure are all variables that impact the structure of innovation. Since culture is how teams behave when no one is watching, wouldn’t it be best to structure your organization in a way that encourages the innovation behaviors you desire?

Sure, it’s never that simple, but there are plenty of examples of how healthcare organizations have developed a structure of innovation. One of the best examples of structure driving culture is the Innovation Studio at The Ohio State University. The Innovation Studio is a moveable makerspace/idea incubator that travels from location to location across campus to foster interprofessional collaboration. Making five tour stops lasting six to eight weeks each year, the Innovation Studio provides a physical location for innovation. Inside you’ll find almost every tool needed to develop a prototype. From 3D printers to laser cutters, it’s all there. But what is truly unique about the Innovation Studio is the model to fund every team that pitches an innovation. You read that right:

Fund. Every. Team.

There are only two criteria to receive funding:

  • Teams must be interprofessional.
  • Each team must follow the university’s tech transfer policy.

By funding each and every team, the Innovation Studio makes a clear statement that everyone in the organization has the permission to be innovative in their work and that the organization believes in their people and their ideas. Admittedly, it sounds like a fluffy millennial delusion where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, but the model is actually based on one of the most comprehensive studies on innovation ROI ever completed. Led by Dylan Minor, researchers scoured more than 3.5 million data points to determine that ideation rate is the key to innovation ROI.

Ideation rate = total number of ideas developed by employees that are approved by management/total number of active users in your organization

Who knew a simple math equation holds the secret sauce for innovation ROI? The more you provide permission to innovate and validate the ideas of your colleagues who know the problem the best, the greater your innovation ROI. All of the foundational principles that make up the Innovation Studio model — the physical space, the permission to innovate, funding of every team — serve as the structure for innovation.

And there’s even more good news about building a proper structure of innovation in healthcare. The unintended biproduct of building a structure of innovation goes beyond the impact of the amazing innovations that have been created (see this recent MedTech Boston post). The ripple effect of giving clinicians the opportunity to turn their ideas into action leads to increased job satisfaction. (Who doesn’t like being told they are smart and should continue to test their ideas?) This leads to happier clinicians who are more engaged at work and are less likely to leave their organization. With the average cost of replacing a physician at seven figures and a nurse at just under six figures, keeping our clinicians at our organizations has a dramatic benefit to the bottom line.

But most important, when we keep our clinicians satisfied, we reduce clinician burnout. That’s where it gets really interesting. When we reduce clinician burnout, we improve patient outcomes. There lies the hidden beauty of building a proper structure for healthcare innovation. When your innovation structure is sound, your impact will be evident not only in the innovations that are created, but also the natural byproduct of engaging clinicians in innovation: improved patient outcomes.

You can learn more about the Innovation Studio at www.go.osu/innovationstudio

Read about Minor’s work on Ideation Rate work here.

And check out Bahcall’s work on how principles of physics relate to innovation here.

About the Author

Tim Raderstorf is the Chief Innovation Officer at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. As the first nurse to hold this academic title in the United States, he takes great pride in educating the nation on the role of the nurse as an innovator and entrepreneur. In 2017, he founded The Innovation Studio, a makerspace/incubator that provides interprofessional healthcare teams with the tools and mentorship needed to turn ideas into actions. Outside of Ohio State, Tim is the founder of Quality Health Communications and co-author of “Evidence-Based Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Nursing and Healthcare: A Practical Guide for Success.”

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