How do you define innovation? Part II

by Nancy Fliesler on July 26, 2013

Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said in 1964, referring to hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.” It’s become a phrase we resort to when we have difficulty defining a term or category.

Is “innovation” such a category, or can we precisely define it? Continuing our weekly series, here’s a few definitions penned by our clinical and scientific leaders, as a run-up to our National Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards on September 26-27. Read on, watch the trailer and add your thoughts to the Comment section below.

Innovation is a two-step process. The first step is the realization that the key in your pocket, which you thought only opened someone else’s toolbox, may actually unlock the gate in the wall that confines you to conventional thinking. The second step is walking to the gate and turning the key.  —Joseph Madsen, MD, Director, Epilepsy Surgery Program, Boston Children’s Hospital

Innovation, as distinct from discovery, is to me the practice of developing, refining and applying novel tools that enable cutting-edge scientific discovery. The machinery, techniques and conceptual approaches to scientific research are constantly evolving through innovation.  —George Daley, MD, PhD, Director, Stem Cell Transplantation Program; Associate Director, Stem Cell Program, Boston Children’s Hospital

Innovation is not understanding the meaning of “this is how we’ve always done it.”  —David Hunter, MD, PhD, Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, Boston Children’s Hospital

Innovation is defined by Webster’s as doing or creating something new. I don’t buy it: Not only does it have to be new; it has to make things better. In medicine, the product of innovation must be a real improvement in health or a reduction in resources needed to maintain or restore health. Innovation without improvement is just fooling around.  —James Lock, MD, Cardiologist-in-Chief, Boston Children’s Hospital

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