Innovation: Keeping the flame alive

by Naomi Fried on February 22, 2012

(Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

I spent my Valentine’s Day with the people I love — the wonderful, creative, hardworking innovators at Children’s Hospital Boston. Excitement, curiosity and, yes, love were in the air as guests came to hear about emerging clinical innovation projects at Children’s first annual Innovation Day.

It was a chance to recognize and celebrate 17 quiet heroes. Innovators often feel isolated, and for some last week, it was the first time they and their ideas had been acknowledged publicly. Some were meeting each other for the first time.

Children’s has a long and rich history of innovation, born of the need to care for our small patients. From Mary Ellen Avery‘s discovery of the lack of lung surfactant in premature babies to Judah Folkman’s path-breaking work on angiogenesis, history shows that innovation, then as now, requires perseverance.

While being an innovator may seem glamorous, and while we idolize celebrity innovators like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the truth is that innovation is really hard work. Part of nourishing a successful innovation culture, which the Innovation Acceleration Program seeks to do here at Children’s, is recognizing how hard, lonely, and frustrating innovation can be.

Innovators don’t always see colleagues and superiors embrace their new ideas, especially when those ideas are in their infancy, and they often aren’t thanked for their work. And that work includes shelving ideas that don’t initially pan out – and trying again. One of the innovators at the conference said that what he was presenting was at least the “300th iteration” of his idea.

The innovation process can be not just arduous but very slow. Pedro del Nido, chair of the department of Cardiac Surgery and an experienced medical device innovator, reminded the crowd that it can easily take ten years to get a new device to market.

Giving our innovators a chance to tell their stories is not only a way to show our love, but keeps the drive to innovate alive. Both clinicians and non-clinicians told me after the conference that they were looking at their work differently and thinking about how they can innovate better.

A Valentine’s Day event would not be complete without a little matchmaking. I know of at least two innovators who found each other last week – a critical care physician and a neuroradiologist who might never have met otherwise, but are now exploring a collaboration. I look forward to seeing the product of this match – and other innovations that may only be a twinkle in someone’s eye today.

Naomi Fried, PhD, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s first Chief Innovation Officer. Her mission is to build and develop a program in clinical innovation, aimed at improving care quality and assisting the hospital in shaping the future of healthcare. Read more about her on our Bloggers page or on the Innovation Acceleration Program website.

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