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Defining Innovation

NOVEMBER 4

As Jefferson has established Innovation as one of its six core values and the Office of Technology Transfer & Business Development has been incorporated into the Innovation Pillar, I have struggled to understand "innovation." The word brings a few things to mind: Apple; Facebook; apps that sell for billions of dollars; Starbucks' little green swizzle stick stoppers that keep my coffee from scalding my hand. These are brilliant, concrete things, but innovation itself and being innovative are intangible and elusive—mystical attributes gifted to geniuses and billion-dollar companies. I read articles in Fast Company and Forbes about innovative companies and leaders, about how workplaces can foster innovation. I came across more than a few times about how innovation is testing quickly, failing quickly, and repeating. But what does innovation have to do with me, in my role at Jefferson?

The emails I read and write, the phone calls I make, the meetings I need to attend are not exactly groundbreaking. I cannot create the next billion-dollar app. Someone already beat me to Post-Its (notably created at 3M, a company known for its innovative culture). Innovation is simply not part of my work routine.

But why not? Why couldn't I come up with the next cardboard coffee up sleeve? Something obvious and simple. It can't be that hard…

In the end, innovation is a mindset; it is a mantra that is practiced. In his book, Better, Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, summarizes success in medicine as "a readiness to recognize problems and a determination to remedy them" (246). This is innovation, too. If something is less than perfect, then I should/can/will figure out how to do/make/create it better. "Test fast, fail fast, repeat" is simply determination to find a better way to achieve a better result.

"So find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going" (257). And innovate.

Gawande, Atul. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. New York: Picador, 2007.