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  • Naomi Fried

Innovation: COVID-19's Silver Lining




I have long been a champion of healthcare innovation, from my role leading innovation at Kaiser Permanente through my work at Boston Children’s Hospital and at Biogen. To many people, innovation is either a poorly defined buzz word, or a term that seems to have little relevance in the “real” world. This under-appreciation has stemmed from years of overuse and generalization of the word.

With the unprecedented threat from the coronavirus pandemic I believe that contextualizing and understanding the true nature of innovation is more important now than ever before. For most of us, this is the first public health crisis in our lifetime that requires not just new solutions, but also new ways of living.

The development of many important healthcare delivery tools such as telehealth have been driven by innovation. Innovation is now everywhere because of the pandemic: from the innovative new mRNA-based vaccines, to creative decentralized trial protocols, to AI-enabled chatbots.

And in the end, it will be innovation that ultimately rescues us from the corona virus pandemic. It is innovation that will allow us to get back to a normal way of life – to eat and gather together, and to return to in-person meetings, conferences, and social interactions. Innovation will allow us to leave home, go to school, and get us traveling safely again.

Innovation is the process of trying new things, not knowing whether they will succeed or fail. If something is guaranteed to succeed, it is not innovation. By definition, innovation entails risk --- in fact, innovation is all about taking risk and potentially failing. Unfortunately, it is fear of failure that often stifles innovation. When times are good, we may perceive risk as undesirable… and innovation is avoided. However, in times of need we are forced to accept risk and potential failure in order to achieve the benefits innovation can bring.

A silver lining of this pandemic is that it has refocused the world on the importance of innovation. The pandemic has been a learning opportunity: both providing us with the context for the need for innovation and serving as a reminder of the power of innovation.

We should all remember that to change the world for the good we need innovation, and there is nothing wrong with taking risks to innovate!

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