Matthew DummertIn my last contribution to 24×7, I wrote about “The Power of Influence.” Let’s assume that you already have the ability to influence. Now, you need to arm yourself with innovative ideas.

The word innovation, in its most basic sense, means “introducing something new or different.” It’s an exciting word with an anticlimactic definition. But let’s consider the environment we are in. How many of you are being asked to do more with less? That can mean less time, less cost, fewer resources, or fewer people. We often feel that we are being asked to accomplish the impossible. Consequently, we may feel we are falling below expectations.

Unless, of course, we consider changing the way we do things. This is where we start to understand how innovation is potentially more important now then ever.

So how can you foster an innovative environment? Here are three simple techniques:

1) Practice intentional innovation.

2) Answer every question with, “Why?”

3) Begin at the destination.

Practice Intentional Innovation

It’s true that innovation can emerge from normal daily activities. But often our daily activities are somewhat automated as we focus on the tasks at hand. We may welcome innovation in its accidental form, but we rarely are deliberate and intentional about being innovative.

Consider the following scenario. A typical department bases its staffing model on various metrics, benchmarks, or comparisons with other organizations. It would adequately staff in order to provide appropriate levels of service at a reasonable cost. It is constantly questioning and evaluating its staffing levels. It tries to be as lean as possible by eliminating wasted steps to maintain high productivity. As it is being challenged to reduce costs, it is asking the staff to do more. It may even consider not filling vacancies in order to reduce labor costs.

As an industry, our mind-set is that a technician’s time is productive only if it is spent working on a device, whether it’s a PM or a repair. That would make any time allocated to not working on equipment classified as nonproductive. Therefore, we add more equipment to fill the technician’s nonproductive time.

The challenge that this approach poses is it squeezes out any time a technician has to “play.” Assume that a technician is working on equipment 90% of his or her time. This includes preventative maintenance, corrective service, and all the associated documentation. Now, assume the technician spends that leftover 10% of time working on standardizing and streamlining a set of maintenance procedures. Through that effort, the technician’s productivity is increased by 5%.

In contrast, if the technician is already working nearly 100% of each workday on equipment, that individual has minimal opportunity to do creative thinking. You can think of your 10% as an investment. The 5% is the return on investment. Obviously, the 10% figure is an arbitrary number and the actual allocation is ultimately based on what you and your leadership are willing to invest.

Answer Every Question with, “Why?”

My 5-year-old son once asked me why the sky is blue. I know my son well enough to realize that responding, “It just is,” would not satisfy his curiosity, and that he would persist until I came up with a reasonable explanation. In a situation like this, if I tell him that I don’t know the answer, he will promptly inform me that the Internet is a great place to find all the answers to all of his questions. If I decide to address his question, prior to consulting the magical Internet search engine, I may provide a vague, partial, or even somewhat made-up answer. Thus begins the perpetual ping-pong match of my son challenging every one of my attempts to avoid his complicated questions. He will repeatedly and persistently ask the question, “Why?”

Ironically, I believe this is an extremely useful technique for us adults. I’m not suggesting that we doubt what people tell us, but rather that we continue to ask the question, “Why?” For example, have you ever wondered why blue jeans are blue? It would be easy to assume that jeans are blue due to some sort of fashionable coordination of colors. We may not realize that it was simply because 150 years ago, indigo dye was cheap and effective.

That may lead us to ask, “Why are they still blue?” This questioning can make us realize that we often mindlessly accept certain norms and assume that they cannot be changed. Why is reversing the direction of a Blu-ray disc to watch an earlier part of the movie called “rewinding?” What did you “wind” in the first place that needs a “rewind”? You mean, movies used to be on tape? Why does the “save” button icon on my computer look that way? So DVDs used to be little squares?

The point of this exercise is to identify the real root of why we do things the way we do, and whether we are holding on to perceived absolutes that may hinder our ability to reach innovation.

Begin at the Destination

So now you have some dedicated and intentional time to think about whether there is a better way. You’ve asked the question, “Why?” and uncovered some historical, now irrelevant, processes.

So where do you start innovating? Try starting at the end. Think about what an ideal situation would look like and, at first, ignore how you get there. Do you plan a vacation by deciding how to get somewhere before you choose where you are going? Of course not. You need to know where you are headed before you start the journey.

Set your sights on the prize, even if the prize is seemingly unattainable. Think of yourself as an automaker creating a concept car. You may never drive the product on the open road, but you will often find golden nuggets of valuable ideas emerging from your intentional playtime.

Next, schedule some intentional innovation time and challenge yourself to create a road map to the ideal. You may be surprised by what you can accomplish. If you hit a roadblock, just keep asking, “Why?”

If you are trying to adapt to the changing times and meet the expectations of a demanding healthcare environment, you will need to invest time in creative thinking. Once you’ve done so, identify a problem or situation and start asking, “Why?” until you uncover opportunities. Then, start at the end and develop a road map to the ideal. Use that road map as your guiding light.

Being innovative is about survival and adapting to our future. It’s worth the investment. 24×7

Matthew Dummert, MS, BSEE, is Manager, Imaging Technology Management, at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. For more information, contact [email protected].