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The Innovation Conundrum

A current theme is buzzing throughout the medical device development community. It has to do with innovation, and more importantly, how organizations create and drive innovation. In product pipelines, standards of care, patient engagement and patient experience.

Unfortunately for the industry, most companies fail to fully understand and embrace the source of innovation. Lacking these insights, organizations struggle to spark, kindle and sustain a highly innovative development model. Traditional R&D has focused its attention on developmental efficiencies and is often anchored in the way things have always been done here. As it turns out, this isn’t the path to innovation.

The seeds of innovation lie in human creativity. That’s not an area most medical device companies even discuss, never mind cultivate. There’s a focus on developmental processes and procedures, but those are either accelerants or constraints to developmental efficiencies; they don’t speak to creative thinking and the inputs necessary for innovation.

Having researched the mysteries surrounding human creativity for the past five years, we believe we have the answer. The impetus that drives creativity is novelty. Novelty of thought and novelty of experience.

Contemporary research from affective neuroscience has debunked the old left brain, right brain theories of logic and creative thought. The reality is the human brain consumes up to 20% of circulating blood glucose at any given time. This energy is primarily consumed by the visual cortex and the functioning of short term memory – how we’re navigating our day. After that, the brain is remarkably stingy in its consumption of energy. And here’s the rub, it takes much less energy to follow well established neural pathways than it does to create new ones. New pathways lead to new perspectives of thinking. This biological constraint is also the primary reason upwards of 80% of change management initiatives fail. People get stuck in neurological ruts.

The way out of this neurological conundrum is through the introduction of novelty. Novelty forces new neural pathways to form as people attempt to understand and correlate the novel encounter with experiences from the past. The objective is to cultivate neural complexity, in particular in the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s executive center. Neural complexity leads to adaptive thinking. Adaptive thinking is the ability to successfully navigate challenges you have never encountered before in your life.

How important is adaptive thinking? Well, a joint study conducted by the U.S. Army and Wake Forest University* found that the Army’s best battlefield commanders displayed the highest levels of neural complexity amongst their peers. Under the most stressful conditions a human being will likely encounter, adaptive thinking enables solders to think clearly and creatively to resolve the constantly changing challenges and conditions of the battlefield.

Having developed nearly 140 technologies for more than 67 companies, REV.1 Engineering has spent the last ten years immersed in novelty. Different disease states, different biological constraints, different technologies and applications of those technologies. Over time, these novel projects cross-pollinated into new ways of thinking about medical device development. Most importantly, the core engineering team has been together throughout most of the past decade, contributing to a remarkably collaborative and innovative culture.

While novelty sparks innovative thinking, organizational culture sustains it. We’ll speak more about that in our next blog.

* Source: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/04/adaptable-leaders.aspx