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Everybody Is an Innovator

Cleveland Clinic is the brains, hearts, and hands of more than 43,000 people. Our brand of mission-driven innovation is all about people, because it comes solely from people—people who have devoted their lives to making others well and to improving their results and experience.

This chapter is about how the elements we have built and collected are employed to identify, motivate, reward, and inform innovators so they can come up with new ideas to take care of patients and solve problems. It’s a privilege to serve these innovators, and Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI) takes seriously its charge to be the caregiver of their ideas.

Mission-driven innovation parallels the doctor-patient relationship. We’re entrusted with something sacred—not health in this case, but cherished ideas initiated by the inventor, who may be coming to the relationship with a variable level of understanding of the technology transfer process. Some seasoned veterans of the innovation journey are well-versed in the steps (and vicissitudes) of commercialization, while others may not have had prior exposure, or simply want to return to their “day job” and “pass the baton” to the innovation professionals. We must balance executing fiduciary responsibilities and representing the inventor with maintaining commitment to mission and representing ourselves and our institution with high integrity. Doing well and doing good embodies mission-driven innovation.

What Our Innovative People Have Done

Throughout the book, I talk about process, metrics, outcomes, and physical assets like devices or drugs. I want to share some insider information: when we describe one of the innovations we are developing on our campus, we almost always use the inventor’s name, along with the technology—“That’s Dr. Johnson’s stent,” or “Dr. Green’s new molecule.” Just as these groundbreaking discoveries are aimed at helping patients, they also emanate from the brilliant minds of colleagues with whom we develop intimate relationships. Both parties, the inventor and the innovations specialist, care deeply about delivering on the promise that innovation holds for mankind.

Rising from the Cleveland Clinic Fire

In May 1929, highly volatile nitrocellulose x-ray film was ignited by steam from a leaky pipe in the basement of the original Cleveland Clinic building, which still stands. The ensuing explosions and poisonous gas billowing throughout the entire building resulted in the worst fire-related disaster in the history of healthcare. Of the building’s 225 occupants, 123 perished, including one of the four founders, Dr. John Phillips.

The tragedy motivated development of safety standards for hazardous material storage, improved hospital procedures, and innovations in firefighter safety and ambulance rescue.

The surviving founders leveraged their personal wealth to rebuild Cleveland Clinic and maintain operations when circulating money all but disappeared in the Great Depression.

At Cleveland Clinic, each obstacle is met with vigor and vision, every advantage is explored and exploited, every failure ...

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