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The Corner Office

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Risk and Reward

Every healthcare CEO I talk to tells me his organization is focused on innovation. Devise a new nursing schedule? You're an innovator. Implement a new patient safety process? It's innovation. Redesign your gift shop? How innovative!

So when Fast Company magazine's "50 most innovative companies" issue hit my desk last month, I couldn't flip through its pages fast enough. With all that innovation happening in hospitals, I thought surely I'd see some healthcare organizations on Fast Company's list.

Not so. The 50 companies represented an array of industries, but none were healthcare organizations. These companies were diverse in product and service—from Google (#1) to Boeing (#29) to Target (#17)—but similar in their pursuit of impossible-sounding ideas. Most of all, they were united in their willingness to take on risk—something healthcare organizations work hard to eliminate.

As I read about these innovative companies, I began to think that innovation in healthcare might be better called "not new, but new to us." Although most healthcare leaders champion the benefits of innovation, few seem willing to take the risks necessary to truly do it. So when a CEO says her organization is innovative, she really means it's innovative for healthcare.

Sure, some large organizations have created entire departments headed by chief innovation officers to focus on innovation, but these restructurings often result in nothing more than long meetings and overpaid positions focused on implementing last season's techniques. True innovation—the pursuit of an idea that seemed impossible as described in Fast Company—can be elusive.

Healthcare leaders must find a way to combine the uncertainty of innovation with the safety assurances required of healthcare. It's a tricky balance, but it's vital to an organization's future regardless of that organization's size or location. As management guru Peter Drucker once wrote, "Every organization—not just businesses—needs one core competence: innovation. And every organization needs a way to record and appraise its innovative performance."

It's not enough to say your women's center is better because of "service." And "culture" won't solve your staffing shortages. It's innovation—true innovation—that will help you create different experiences for your customers and staff. And that's what will ultimately differentiate you from your competitors, attract new employees, and protect your bottom line.

Molly Rowe