Is Don Berwick the Secretary of Innovation

Thomas Kuczmarski (perhaps tongue in cheek) suggests that President Obama create a new cabinet-level position to introduce clearer thinking and creative solutions to heal the stagnant economy. In his February 11, 2018, Business Week article Obama Needs a Secretary of Innovation, Kuczmarski makes the case that expecting innovation to emerge locally at a time when all the locals are growing as fast as possible to avoid being swept over the waterfall of economic decline is overly optimistic. And real innovation takes work across traditional boundaries – something even less likely to happen when substantial attention is being paid to surviving within one’s own boundaries. “Innovation is a multidisciplinary and disciplined process that needs to be managed and led. If everybody is in charge, then nobody is, and little gets accomplished…” So incremental, isolated local improvement is a positive change, but not innovation. And to think about innovation, one needs to be able to think outside of one’s own backyard box.

The job of Secretary of Innovation, according to Mr. Kuczmarski, would be to create a national agenda for innovation and a national consciousness and intentionality around innovation as a strategy for economic recovery and growth. And this kind of thinking and enthusiastic leadership needs to come from the government. Well, probably it does need to be more a part of government – but wait. Does it really need to come from government to impact the nation broadly?

Not in the health care of all places. Isn’t the IHI’s 100,000 Lives Campaign (oops, it’s now up to 5 Million Lives and growing) a national agenda for both consciousness and change? Highly successful, it neither started nor grew because of government – but because of innovation and passionate leadership. Kuczmarski reminds us that innovation is not invention. It’s (merely) transcending business (and barriers) as usual, crossing boundaries, and doing what was previously elusive by harnessing a different way to think about problems. Like focusing on solutions, for instance. So if Don Berwick is the Secretary, aren’t all the Vice Presidents of Quality in hospitals around the country actually under-Secretaries. Their jobs, when so embraced, are all about trashing health care operational silos in the interest of achieving breakthrough results in clinical operations, patient care and safety, and even cost reduction. Business and government are always trying to set examples of health care. Looks like we may have the edge on large scale innovation. Thanks, Don.