changeEveryone loves an innovative solution. They are exciting and they are different. They can allow people to see processes, they are utterly familiar with, in a new light. They can revitalise a flagging work force. If they work.

One of the key platforms in will addressing the twin challenges of financial austerity and soaring need, is innovation. I would like to suggest that the weight of expectation placed on innovation is misplaced. I’d like to make a call out for an equal emphasis on adaptation.

In terms of industrialisation the key development, in any sector, has been the point where solutions to a problem are adapted to work at scale. Henry Ford didn’t invent the motorcar but he understood its value and knew how to adapt a production process to accommodate quality, quantity and cost. Similarly, Bill Gates didn’t invent the concept of operating systems. Microsoft saw the value of how companies like Xerox and Apple were developing graphic interfaces, but also knew how to use licensing to get their version implemented at scale.

Adaptation has a number of advantages over a myopic focus on innovation:-

Adaptation is evidence based – If you can find a suitable candidate for adaptation then usually that’s because there is some confidence that it already works in some form. Innovative solutions are always going to require some element of piloting or evaluation to see if the theory matches the practice. Especially if you intend to operate on a population level.

Adaptation has an element of predictability – If you have a proven process for taking existing solutions and adapting them for different populations, or at a different scale, then costs are predictable. On the other hand nobody can set out to deliberately innovate. Surprisingly, these days, this might be considered a controversial statement. Innovation is an inherently retrospective process. Someone creates a solution and only over time it can be assessed as to whether it works or not. Only over time can it be assessed to see whether it is truly innovative or merely a replication of existing processes.

Adaptation has a lower failure rate –  Despite the oxymoron of deliberate innovation, it still happens. To some extent it has become institutionalised, which probably undermines it even further. People who set out to innovate for innovation’s sake will fail more often than they succeed. This in itself is no bad thing as those few successes might prove decisive; but you will need to absorb the costs of failure. Adapting an existing process, on the other hand, already gives you a head start and a degree of confidence because you’re not testing a number of theories.

I am not suggesting that nurturing and supporting people and organisations that have theoretical innovations is a bad thing. I am suggesting that it needs to sit within a wider context.

We need to invest much more effort and money to disseminate proven solutions that can be adapted to work with different people and in different places. We need to have a much more honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t. We need to have a much more honest conversation about why things work or why they don’t.

There is nothing wrong with being the Microsoft or the Ford of health and wellbeing. Seeing the value in something that already exists is a skill that should be valued and encouraged.