Innovation is a Team Sport

Successful innovation is not a single breakthrough; it is not a sprint; it is not an event for the solo runner.

Successful innovation is a team sport; it is a relay race.  It requires one team for the breakthrough, and another team to get the breakthrough accepted and adopted.

This takes the long-term, steady courage of the day-in, day-out struggle to educate and to win acceptance.

– Dr. Quyen Nguyen

This is the best quote I have heard for what it takes to truly implement transformational change!

Quyen Nguyen explains in this TED talk that in medical school, anatomy texts are color-coded. However, in a real patient, it is not easy to tell the difference between structures. Surgeons rely on how cancer cells look and feel compared to other cells, to determine if they have removed all of the cancer. Tissue samples have to be removed and sent for analysis by the pathologists (taking perhaps 20 minutes per piece, while the patient remains on the table) to determine if the surgeon has gotten the entire tumor.

Often, after looking at the final pathology, a few days later it is identified that some cancer remained in the patient and additional therapy (or surgery) is needed.

Wouldn’t it be better if the surgeon could tell if there is cancer? In 2004, Dr. Nguyen met Dr. Chen, the Nobel-prize winning chemist who had developed a special dye that could be injected into a person with cancer.  Normal tissue does not react, but tumors fluoresce.  What is great is that the fluorescence lights up to show where there is cancer, even if it is not right at the surface.

What is even better is that it is possible to use this same tagging technique to determine on an MRI if the patient has cancer, before performing surgery.

Taking it a step further, to avoid unnecessary injury during surgery, Dr. Nguyen asked if there could be a way to see nerves. Again, working together, the team discovered molecules that could label nerves.

Putting the 2 probes together, the team developed a way to color code the surgical field.  Understanding that this will take a long time for acceptance, Dr. Nguyen is committed to sharing this innovation to win the hearts and minds of her surgical colleagues, to ultimately improve patient care.

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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