Scott_berkun aamiThe secret to innovation might seem like a mystery, but there are some things that work—and others that clearly don’t, says Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation. He spoke Saturday, June 5, at the AAMI 2016 open general session.

AAMI president Mary Logan introduced Berkun by noting that an innovation speaker might seem like an odd choice for a healthcare conference. But solving the problems of safe healthcare delivery in the future will take creative thinking, she said.

Berkun argued that building a culture of innovation starts with language. Historically, brilliant innovators like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie used simple language to convey tremendously complex ideas, the better to share them with as wide an audience as possible. In contrast, those who use elevated language may do so to convey status or as a tool of intimidation. “Whoever uses the most jargon has the least confidence in their ideas,” Berkun asserted to a round of laughter and applause.

More important than throwing around buzzy, meaningless terms like “disruptive” or “game-changing” is asking the right questions, Berkun advised. That includes defining what problem you’re trying to solve, deciding how you measure improvement, and being honest about which individuals will be impacted—for better and worse—by your solution.

As a society, we have an obsession with the moment of epiphany in successful innovation narratives. We are drawn to simplistic accounts of major breakthroughs, most famously Isaac Newton’s observation of a falling apple, which led to the “discovery” of gravity. But that moment likely never happened, Berkun said. Real innovation typically involves years of observation and hard work leading up to the “epiphany,” followed by experimentation and trial and error to apply the findings.

In a healthcare setting, it’s important to make sure that leaders actually invest in the behaviors they say they want to encourage, Berkun argued. That means hiring employees at least partially based on their ability to think creatively and rewarding initiative when they hit upon promising ideas. And leaders also have to budget for innovation—by carving out time for their employees to “scout” new ideas, and by building money into the budget to test out processes or technologies that might not pan out.

“Discovery is an expensive and sloppy process,” Berkun said. “It demands taking risks of some kind. There will be waste.”

The slides from Berkun’s presentation are available on his website.


Photo courtesy of AAMI.