Can Imitation Be More Beneficial than Innovation? The Answer May Surprise You

Innovation is the engine of change. And, as a recent Harvard Business Review post noted, “Health care is infatuated with innovation.” After all, innovation is how we’ve evolved as a society.

But what about imitation? Can our industry benefit from that?

The HBR post, titled “Health Care Needs Less Innovation and More Imitation” goes on to note that some health systems are emulating an approach adapted by Cisco Systems. Cisco doesn’t just invest in its own research; the company also teams up with partners that have promising products.

The way this works in healthcare is pretty straightforward. Rather than creating infrastructure to address non-clinical issues that affect their patients’ health, health systems instead partner with other organizations that have expertise in delivering these types of non-clinical services. By reaching outside of their traditional boundaries, these healthcare organizations can tap all of the innovative approaches without investing in their own research and development.

In “Health Care Needs Less Innovation and More Imitation,” Anna M. Roth and Thomas H. Lee write:

Health care is infatuated with innovation. We’re awash in innovation conferences, organizations proclaiming innovation as a core value, newly minted Chief Innovation Officers, prizes for best innovation. We think innovation is great, but there’s a downside. When organizations overemphasize innovation, they can miss out on the power of imitation – copying existing approaches that actually work.

So, let’s all take a look around. Let’s see what is working well for other organizations and consider adaptation, or imitation. Let’s be clear, innovation is good and certainly has its place. But, sometimes there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Healthcare organizations should focus on their patients’ health and look to specialists with expertise in non-clinical services.

As Roth and Lee noted: In actuality, innovation and imitation are closely intertwined. But innovation should be combined with thoughtful imitation that leverages the benefits of being a “fast follower.” Look at health systems that in certain areas are exemplary and consider imitating them. Doing so can lower risk and investment in the unknown or unproven.

It could be the faster way to get better.

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