I have just started a new job with the compelling title – Chief Innovation Officer, TELUS Health. When I tell friends and colleagues they give me a quizical look before asking some variant of “what does that mean?” While innovation is almost universally viewed as positive, there is great variation in what people mean by it; ask 25 people and you will get 25 different definitions, all representing their own outlook and biases. After a few of these conversations, I realized that I need to define innovation for myself and for my organization in a way that is clear, illuminating and actionable.
If one looks up the definition in the Oxford dictionary, innovation is defined as making “changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.”
The Google ngram shows an almost exponential 400% increase in the use of the word innovation since 1940. Much of this is likely attributable to Joseph Schumpeter, who in 1939 defined invention as an act of intellectual creativity undertaken “without importance to economic analysis” while innovation is an economic decision consisting of any one of these:
1. Introduction of a new product
2. Creation of a new method of production
3. Opening of a new market
4. Conquest of a new source of materials
5. Implementation of a new form of organization
Schumpeter went further in decoupling the dependance of innovation on invention when he said: “Innovation is possible without anything we should identify as invention and invention does not necessarily induce invention.”
Stepping back a bit, I think the best definition I have uncovered comes from Scott D. Anthony when he simplified this to define innovation as: “doing something different that has impact.”
From this definition, we can see that like Schumpeter he sees innovation as involving significantly more than new products, but Anthony goes a step further and does not include “new” or never been done in his definition. When something is new, an act of creation, but has no economic impact, it is invention, not innovation. On the other hand, when something already discovered, i.e. “not new”, is applied in a different way and has impact, it is innovation.
This latter aspect of innovation is especially important when one understands the power of convergence, the coming together of different lines of inquiry. Convergence is truly the most fertile ground for innovation, as methods and insights gained in one area, result in application and breakthroughs in others. We live in a golden age for convergence in healthcare as we are seeing multiple exponential technologies converge:
• Computing power
• Gene sequencing
• Big Data
• Machine learning
Individual development in each of these areas is compounding at(or greater than Moore’s law) resulting in capabilities that were cutting edge only twenty years ago becoming affordable or even virtually free now. For example from 1992-2012, the cost of computing has decreased from $222 to $0.06 per million transistors, computing storage from $569 to $0.03 per gigabyte, bandwidth from$1245 to $23 per 1,000 Mbps. Applied to healthcare the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped from $100M for the first genome sequenced in 2000 to $1000 today. Cameras and sensors that cost millions in the 1970’s are now 1,000x better, lighter and cheaper and found in every phone sold!
Over the next decade, using these exponential technologies, our understanding of the molecular basis of life in the individual will simply explode as we will have within our reach affordable ways to sequence not only an individual’s genome, but also their transcriptome, proteome, metabolome and microbiome. With cheap and ubiquitous sensors we will have the ability to monitor all aspects of human physiology in real-time. Through big data and machine learning advances, we will also have the power to synthesize all of this new information with existing electronic health records and realize insights and breakthroughs allowing us to predict and prevent disease..
This convergence of exponential technology will lead to a golden age of innovation in healthcare, transforming medicine from a pathology focused, one size fits all discipline to a precise, predictive and preventive model that improves vibrant life expectancy. These innovations will come from all angles: new products, diagnostics, therapies and cures, completely new capabilities, and new business models (think disruption).
The realization that we are in the midst of a golden age of healthcare innovation has led me to my own definition of innovation as I begin my new role as Chief Innovation Officer at Canada’s leading health IT company:
“Innovation is something different that has the impact to exponentially transform healthcare”.