Innovation is more than a shiny gadget. It is about identifying, developing and successfully exploiting new ideas. Photograph: CJ Burton/Corbis
The five top tips to harness potential and give staff a licence to suggest changes
To nurture innovation in healthcare, leaders must do less. This counter-intuitive advice draws on years of innovation research and the practices of the world's most innovative organisations, the ones that get 10 times more bang for buck on their innovation activities than the rest.
Innovation is more than a shiny gadget or an elegant new pathway. It is the organisation's process of identifying, developing and successfully exploiting new ideas, which is deceptively complex. I've worked with only 19 health providers and commissioners so far, yet I consistently see the same challenges which, if addressed, would lead to phenomenal leaps in innovation outcomes. Here are five top tips for leaders of health and care organisations:
Kill half your projects. A lack of clear focus leads ambitious people to try and do too much. Write an innovation plan to assert which quality, prevention, productivity and revenue objectives you wish to achieve, and then kill the projects that don't fit. It's likely that 20 to 50% will be stopped or paused, liberating resources and allowing you to fund the projects that align with your plan properly. This focus also helps to create a call to arms for your people and networks – a common goal around which they can all work.
Empower your people. The wisdom of your workforce is much greater than you might think. To harness this potential, your people need a licence to innovate. They need to know where to go when they have an idea and that, when they do, they'll be listened to and heard. The smart application of crowdsourcing tools and capability will engage and empower your staff quickly and cheaply. You'll be doing less of the work, but achieving much more.
Sack your 'blockers'. Close your eyes and ask yourself who the key person is that talks down all new ideas as soon as they are shared, and then sack them (or at least move them to one side). Almost every organisation has an influential character who consistently blocks innovation. Their voice is usually associated with responses such as: "That won't work here" and "The patients will never use that". Remove this person, and your people will be free to innovate.
Get disruptive. I first used internet banking in 2000. It seemed like a step backwards as it seemed to be doing less. But by starting small, choosing the right niches and proving the model, it has grown to transform the convenience, efficiency and security of consumer banking. Technology-enabled care models can drive the same transformation in health. New approaches can mature and eventually be good enough for a larger population.
Integrate patient experience and service improvement. You probably have a patient experience/public involvement/patient advice and liaison services team. They build genuine patient, family and public insight – deep data about the experiences and expectations of your service users. This data should be central to your service improvement and transformation efforts. I've sat in sessions with the likes of P&G andNissan where there's an empty chair in the room representing the customer. What would our customer think of this meeting, this idea, this proposal? Their customer insight people answer these questions and, in doing so, create a laser-sharp focus for service improvement. Are you genuinely patient centred? You've probably captured the insight, now it's time to use it.
Dr Peter Thomond is co-founder and managing director of Clever Together, an organisation that helps leaders empower people using crowdsourcing