Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Excavating Hidden Innovations

Most discussions about innovation involve coming up with something radically new or developing incremental solutions.  But, sometimes, the innovations already exist, and what is needed are people who understand enough to unearth them and make them work.

One such treasure hunter is Dr. Adam Powell, who is the President and founder of the healthcare consulting firm Payer+Provider Syndicate, which uses economic and health services research techniques to drive operational change within hospitals and health insurance companies.  Dr. Powell and his team comprise a unique company that is an innovation both in its design and the types of services it provides.  In a very real sense, Payer+Provider itself is the innovation.

A company of industry leaders that define the problems instead of solving them

One of the primary differentiators of Payer+Provider is that every consultant in the firm is a recognized field expert, holding at least doctorate in a relevant field.  Thus, all of the people on the Payer+Provider team have produced world-class, peer-reviewed research on health services, and have an exceptionally deep understanding of the problems they solve.  Rather than solely being called in to solve a client's problems, Payer+Provider has already generated solutions to specific problems in the industry and is working on applying these solutions to the unique versions of the problems face by their clients (see, for example, their TraumaQi program).[1]  This, of itself, is a two-fold innovation:

1) Bringing in experts and giving them space both to cross-talk and to talk to people on the front lines, which allows for the application of deep knowledge to elicit new insights.

2) Defining the problem/use that fits the solution -- this is looking at innovation in the other direction!

Looking for innovations in different places

In keeping with the spirit of disruptive innovation, Dr. Powell and his team work on redesigning healthcare from the ground up, bringing both microeconomists and physicians together (and, in the case of the firm's Chief Medical Officer, a physician-economist) to generate operational change instead of the regulatory or strategic change that most firms provide.

In an interview with Dr. Powell about his firm, he noted:

Another innovation of ours is the licensing of research. High-quality health services research often takes years to conduct, and after publication, researchers do not always have time to return to the field to see that their research makes a practical impact. As a result, consulting firms traditionally do not have the resources to conduct research with the rigor of academia, and academics traditionally do not have the resources to implement their research within consultancies. As a consultancy run by people with academic training in health services research, Payer+Provider is able to license and build upon existing academic health services research, and then invest the time required to bring it to market.

Indeed, Payer+Provider bridges the gap between academia and medical practice.  The latter tends to generate problems, and the former creates solutions, but making the connections has been extremely difficult in most fields.[2]  As Dr. Powell concluded:

We have taken studies with no obvious commercial application apparent in their abstracts, and sometimes have found multiple commercially-relevant applications within the contents of the fine print. As a result of our training, we are both able to understand the technical details and the potential applications. Rather than searching for new innovations, we excavate hidden ones.

Orin's Asides
1) See research on "problem finding," as in Csikszentmihalyi's 1996 book, Creativity.
2) Take a look at this series of articles recent issue of Academy of Management, Learning & Education


Orin C. Davis is the first person to earn a doctorate in positive psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring, and it spans both the workplace and daily life. He is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and a freelance consultant who helps companies maximize their human capital and become better places to work.

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