Innovation: Key to success in the new millennium

BySuzanne K. White, MN, RN, FAAN, FCCM, CNAA

Senior Manager

Ernst & Young LLP


Survival in the current health care climate demands critical care managers who support innovation. Innovation has been defined as "applied creativity — turning an idea into a practical, profitable reality."1 I used to think that innovation just happened, that people were just creative. But it rarely is an "aha" experience. In fact, it comes from a lot of hard work, and there are many creative people and ideas. But without innovators, the ideas become useless. If we want to be successful in the new millennium, we must become innovation leaders.

For example, think about the Post-It note, which began as a failed adhesive project at the 3M company in St. Paul, MN. In 1972, Spencer Silver, an engineer, was trying to create a super-strong adhesive; instead he created a super-weak one. It seemed a failure and a true setback, but he decided to consult his colleagues in glue at 3M. No one could think of a use for it. But then another engineer, Art Fry, started using it for bookmarks because the weak adhesive stuck to the pages but did not tear them.

Even though company executives scoffed at the idea of adhesive bookmarks, Fry thought it could make the company some money. He kept the idea alive for five years and finally passed out samples of sticky pieces of paper to 3M secretaries. The rest is history. The Post-It note is one of the five most popular products produced by the $15 billion company.2

How do you make an idea applicable?

Why is the Post-It note important to critical care managers? It is an example of a creative idea that took an innovator to make it useful. According toJo Manion,Need Co. Location. Credentialsmanagers who believe that innovation is important build an environment supportive of innovation. Some of her recommendations include the following:

Define the culture or define "how we do things around here."

Innovation will occur more frequently in environments that are open, relaxed, and informal. Encourage behaviors such as spontaneous communication, humanistic management, and humor in the workplace. Have some fun. Work isn’t only about working.

Communicate the need for innovation.

Be a cheerleader — energize people and get them involved in what is going on in critical care. Managers’ priorities are revealed by their actions. If you put patient care first, your staff will as well. If you try new approaches in front of your staff and even if they fail, your staff will be willing to try new things, too. Openness to innovation can be communicated by letting go of hard-and-fast rules that may not accomplish what you want.

Reward innovation. Sit down with staff and ask them, "What is your perception of who gets ahead here? How do they get ahead? For what reason?" The process for evaluating performance and contributions should be closely examined. Determine what is important to the innovator.

Reevaluate and remodel the current management structure.

Do you always go by the book?

If everything must be done by the book, innovation will never happen. Managers must examine their attitudes toward mistakes and failure if they are sincere about innovation. Yes, some mistakes can be very serious, but the majority are not.

Help individual nurses gain the skills needed to be innovative.

Some of these skills include the following:

— assertiveness;

— risk taking;

— decision making;

— negotiation.

Share the vision for the organization.

Imaginations are stimulated and innovative ideas can be generated when staff understand and share the vision of where the organization is going. Give the staff permission to think.

These strategies aren’t always easy to accomplish. When at times you become frustrated and wonder if you’re doing the right thing, just remember the Post-It note.

[Editor’s note: Critical Care Management is all about innovative leaders with ideas that can help you be prepared for the millennium. If you have some innovative and creative clinical management ideas that you could share with other critical care managers, please contact Managing Editor Glen Harris at P.O. Box 740056, Atlanta, GA. 30374. Telephone: (404) 262-5461. E-mail:}

Suggested Reading

Manion J. Change from Within. Kansas City: American Nurses Association; 1990.

Frederick J. The end of eureka!. Working Woman Feb. 1997:38-39.