Catalyze Innovation that Advances Health

Tools: Research

The presence of deliberate processes and tools was identified as a critical success factor in Smith and colleagues (2008) systematic review of the innovation literature. Anthony, Johnson and Sinfield (2008) conducted in-depth interviews at more than 40 organizations across a range of private-sector companies in the US, and then surveyed managers from over 100 organizations across a variety of sectors in 14 countries regarding their innovation practices. They found that successful organizations have deliberate structures and processes that support innovation, not leaving it to chance alone.

However, these processes must not be too rigid. In comparing 14 longitudinal case studies across a variety of industries, Van de Ven and colleagues (1999) found that while there were patterns of commonalities, the development of each innovation was a “messy and complex progression of events”. The National School of Government’s study of organizations that excel found that they had “an emphasis on developing the capability and capacity to innovate and take well-managed risks…[and] a systematic and reliable mechanism for delivering change” (Dennis, Tanner and Walker, 2005). Madjar’s (2005) of the literature concluded that “…formal training in cognitive abilities and formal brainstorming sessions is proven effective for increasing creativity,” although she went to caution that training alone is insufficient. Bessant and Maher (2009), reviewing research on radical innovation as part of a long-term international program, specifically cite the importance of training on tools and methods from design science as important for the health service.

The University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Center’s concluded that the NHS needs to “support leaders and innovators through training and by creating slack” (Williams, de Silva and Ham, 2008). Similarly, in a study conducted by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, Mulgan and Albury (2003) found that only half of all innovations are initiated at the top of organizations and therefore recommended that public sector organizations should invest in promoting training and applications of formal creativity techniques by front-line staff.

But development is not only about learning specific tools and techniques for idea generation. Plsek (1997) reviewed both the heuristic advice for increasing personal creativity and the biographies of successful innovators and concluded that experiences that open one up to more flexibility in thinking are helpful. Along these lines, leaders and experts at a Harvard colloquium on innovation recommended that leaders “encourage individuals to gain diverse experiences that will increase their creativity” (Amabile and Khaire, 2008).


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NOTE: All of the information on the Elements of a Culture of Innovation, Assessment, and Tips for Leaders were adapted from Maher, Lynne, Paul Plsek, Jenny Price, and Mark Mugglestone, (2010), “Creating the Culture for Innovation: A Practical Guide for Leaders” published by the National Health Service (NHS) Institute for Innovation and Improvement in the United Kingdom