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“Our need for rules does not arise from the smallness of our intellects, but from the greatness of our task. Discipline is not necessary for things that are slow and safe: but discipline is necessary for things that are swift and dangerous”


The Importance of Innovation Infrastructure

Effective process is the singular asset that differentiates a creative institution from an innovative one. Unequivocally, this is where the rubber meets the road. An operational commercialization or technology-transfer infrastructure is the foundation for building a high-innovation environment. It’s the absolute minimum investment an organization can make to play in the contemporary sphere of modern mission-driven innovation.

In the linear flow of product development that pervades most commercial markets, engineers try to predict market migration or “experts” use data from focus groups to predict consumer demand. The medical innovation journey, however, begins at the bedside or laboratory bench. An engaged caregiver recognizes an unmet need and draws upon his or her talents to address it. Then it’s incumbent upon the institutional innovation infrastructure to develop and divest the creative solution to return it to the clinician. This is the virtuous cycle.

Mastering the multi-step process by which technologies are gestated in this virtuous cycle revolving around the patient is both a challenge and an opportunity for newly emerging mission-driven innovation organizations. Details of how Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI) developed and operates its virtuous cycle—its commercialization infrastructure—are revealed in this chapter.

The success of such a model, and its major distinguishing characteristic from pure academic idea generation usually associated with research universities, is that the marketing is already done on the front end. Most of my colleagues have engaged in research and contributed robustly to discovery science, so we don’t diminish pursuit of “ideas for the sake of ideas,” but we’re sticking with our definition of innovation as meaning the process by which ideas are put to work.

The Virtuous Cycle: The Foundation of Mission-Driven Innovation

To participate in innovation today, an organization must invest in—or access through partnership—people and practices dedicated to operating healthcare innovation’s virtuous cycle. (See Figure 4.1.) A virtuous cycle, or circle, is the term used to describe a complex chain of related events or steps, involving strong expertise and engagement and compounding in a positive feedback loop. When operated optimally, it’s the opposite of the vicious circle, or cycle, a comparable set of recurring events that conspire to spin out of control and result in negative consequences.

We developed commercialization competencies and infrastructure early and robustly, and then grew them in a dynamic manner over the past two decades. While our earliest efforts were driven mainly by ...

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