Innovation Readiness is Not Improvement Readiness

Innovation Readiness is Not Improvement Readiness

Innovation Readiness is Not Improvement Readiness

Most of what you have read lately is about how COVID has accelerated innovation.

What might have taken 5 years to get to patients is now taking months, like telemedicine, supply chain speed and drug discovery and development.

However, there is a difference between an idea, an invention, an improvement and an innovation. Sometimes what is really happening is not new at all, but simply an example of speedier dissemination and implementation across the chasm, frequently out of necessity.

Standards-based reform is a series of improvement efforts with a focus on doing things better. Online learning and new learning models are examples of disruptive innovation–doing things differently to dramatically improve outcomes. Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion, is about improvement. Clay Christensen’s book, Disrupting Class, is about innovation.

Physician leaders occupy the next level and are expected to provide vision, direction and inspiration and drive the change process. Some see their role as incremental tweakers, leading to the painful and difficult process of changing the existing model. Others see their role as making the model obsolete. They typically try to follow John Kotter's 8 step change paradigm: unfreeze by creating a sense of urgency, changing behavior, and then refreezing the new behaviors to engraft them on to the culture and make them sustainable.

Physician entrepreneurs take it one step further, taking advantage of an opportunity with scarce, uncontrolled resources with the goal of creating user-defined value through the deployment of biomedical and clinical innovation. Often times, their outcomes will be in conflict with physician managers who are there to protect, not disrupt, the status quo, or leaders who don't have the same vision.

Some physician entrepreneurs are innovators, occupying a space in the upper right hand corner of the novelty-value matrix

Innovation Readiness is Not Improvement Readiness

Where you sit on the matrix is dependent on how much time you're spending on the now (lower left), the next (right lower) or the new (upper right quadrant). The upper left quadrant is the place in hell reserved for shiny new objects that create little or no user-defined value at significant multiples when compared to the competition or the status quo.

For example, understood as a virtual army in the war against COVID-19, AI has vast stockpiles of potential weaponry with which to wage many a battle. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that potential, so far at least, is all the technology has to show for all the chest-beating of its enthusiasts. AI’s success or lack thereof in taking on COVID-19 is all a matter of data. Privacy regulations and balkanized data silos will stop you even before the antiquated, error-filled health databases do. That happens in Washington and state capitals, not in the data lab.

Improvement readiness assessment and innovation readiness assessment, therefore, are not the same. While there are similarities, there are significant differences that determine the outcomes of a change initiative. Most of them have to do with how pervasive is the process of how those with an entrepreneurial mindset collide with an organization that has a culture of innovation, not just improvement.

Here is what physician entrepreneurs should know about innovation and why it is a heavier lift than improvement.

1. You need to lead innovators, not manage innovation.

2. Innovative universities and organizations are not necessarily entrepreneurial.

3. Patients and other stakeholders are your main source of opportunity to create innovation.

4. Big Device should change their R/D models.

5. You need an Innovation Management System to create impact.

6. You need to clarify your innovation expectations and encourage innovators to go beyond them or dial them back. Sometimes tinkering is the first step towards something bigger.

7. Have you validated your business model assumptions?

8. Rules create ecosystems. Ecosystems drive innovative business models. Think, TV, the Internet, electric cars.

9. Stop blowing innovation smoke and raise your innovation bar.

10. Create user defined value through the deployment of innovation, not just companies.

Post COVID you should not be asking yourself when we will return to normal. That ship has sailed. You should be shooting to make the old normal obsolete, not disseminating bad products, services and models to more people inequitably and calling it innovation.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs on Twitter@ArlenMD and Facebook.

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  • David Harrison

    Insightful post !

  • Levi Swartz

    Life will never be the same :(

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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