When Imitation Beats Innovation

by Houston Klassen, Executive VP, Infinite Leap

I just finished reading a very intriguing article: “Health care needs less #innovation,” by Dhruv Khullar. As technology consultants, you might think we would be the first one who would say – “What is he talking about?!” but actually Dr. Khullar’s points resonate so well with our company philosophy.

In the article, Dr. Khullar challenges us by stating that health care needs more imitation and less innovation. He cites Anna M. Roth and Thomas H. Lee, who suggested in the Harvard Business Review, that we should be anointing more Chief Imitation Officers — people who scour the literature and the country for effective practices to bring home — and fewer Chief Innovation Officers.

I couldn’t agree more. Dr. Khullar admits that “imitation gets a bad rap. It’s often considered a second-rate behavior for those who can’t think for themselves,” but to me it is a notable and worthwhile characteristic of intelligent people. Something about “not reinventing the wheel” comes to mind!

While we certainly need to advocate for smart healthcare, where healthcare systems become safer places, less expensive, and more efficient — many of these first steps can be taken simply by adopting widely recognized best practices and committing to a culture of continuous improvement.

Our consultants help healthcare organizations illuminate inefficiencies in their operational processes and we leverage real-time technology solutions as a tool to solve operational bottlenecks and improve the patient experience. However, we are not pushing our healthcare clients to move to the newest technologies just to satisfy the urge of being the most cutting-edge. We help our clients maximize their existing investments in technology by optimizing what they already have in place and stimulating conversations on how to leverage it for additional use cases. Much of what we learned and teach to our new clients is a result of the lessons we learned while perfecting our methodologies in past RTLS projects.

Certainly, we always look to innovate, because it’s exciting and can lead to break-through outcomes, however, we always start with implementing those things that have worked well and produced results elsewhere. I believe that most of our clients actually hire us because

1) we know where the landmines are so they don’t have to learn them themselves the hard way, and

2) we know how to get to value as fast as possible.

Tying this back to Dr. Khullar’s article that I referenced earlier, we imitate or replicate the best practices that are proven to generate value.

We also realize that while our expert consultants are the most experienced in the industry there are also others who come up with some pretty amazing ideas that should be replicated and shared openly. This is one of the reasons we created the RTLS in Healthcare Community and why we are willing to jump on the call with anyone who is interested in sharing an idea or looking for a little bit of input on how others have reached success.

We also agree with Dr. Khullar that we need both imitation and innovation. From our experience, many times innovation can occur just by questioning “how things have always been done.” In our space, innovation also occurs because the technology and resulting data from real-time systems also enable healthcare systems to implement process change in a way that could not be done before.

Clearly, there is a proper blend between innovation and imitation, but we do believe that there are numerous examples of significant innovations that have been tried, tested and proven that can easily and quickly be imitated.