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Are You Ready to Lead Innovation?

Just like a purposeful device or an elegant molecule, the practice of innovation has a structure and function that determine its level of success. This chapter will detail how diverse types of innovation, contributing a variety of solutions, move through an institution’s innovation infrastructure. We’ll also cover the basic proprietary tools that Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI) has developed to assess the value of individual technology disclosures and the preparedness of entire institutions to participate in structured innovation.

At its core, successful innovation is about execution. While CCI’s success is due to identifying promising technologies, it is equally derived from appropriately saying no and shutting down projects to suitably direct time and resources.

While exercising discipline in the handling of disclosed technologies may be paramount, almost as critical is developing an understanding of the various mechanisms by which mission-driven innovation is derived. Experience and insight is required to recognize and gestate ideas emanating from the different routes by which innovation is fostered. Expertise in both the intake and development processes maximizes the chances of success. Ultimately, this level of mastery allows the institutional innovation practice to be sustainable and scalable.

The Six Degrees of Innovation

In CCI’s nearly two decades of experience, we’ve identified six distinct varieties of innovation. In cataloging them, I’ve been inspired by Peter Drucker, who has contributed many concepts germane to our understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship.

There’s elegance in the simplicity by which he communicates the seven sources of innovation in his landmark book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles.1 This fundamental work inspired us to think more deeply about the varieties of mission-driven innovation, and we came up with a slightly different, yet intersecting approach called six degrees of innovation.2 We chose the term degrees to reflect the degrees of a compass. A compass is a fitting metaphor, as a sense of direction, along with organizational nimbleness, to adjust to changing conditions is crucial to the accomplished innovator. Additionally, a compass is an instrument that tracks where you have been and beckons you to unexplored territory on the journey—in this case, to cover the entire innovation landscape.

First-Degree Innovation: Opportunistic

F. Mason Sones, Jr., after whom the annual award recognizing Cleveland Clinic’s top innovator is named, was regarded personally as a curmudgeon, professionally as a genius. Though his seminal discovery of coronary angiography was made in 1958, his name is still invoked with just deference for the innovation’s huge impact on modern medicine—and on the reputation of Cleveland Clinic as the world leader in heart care. Dr. Sones’s discovery illustrates opportunistic innovation because his work exemplifies the intersection of serendipity and the prepared mind.

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