Serial Innovation Method Generates New Ways to Innovate

By Nicolle Samuels

Inventor was never on my list when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” However, as I am embarking on the second half of my career as a physical therapist, I’m excited for the opportunity to innovate and have a broader impact helping people live their best life.

Looking back, I’ve always perceived things from different angles, utilized both the left and right sides of my brain, and had an innate way of simplifying and solving problems. Becoming a physical therapist was a natural fit: We’re trained to evaluate and diagnose impairments without reliance upon imaging, labs and expensive technology.

Instead of prescribing medications or intervening with surgery, therapists focus on how to improve function, provide tools to improve circumstances and educate patients about how they can optimize their personal situations. It’s a perfect environment for thinking outside the box and solving problems. During physical therapy school and in my early career, I could often be overheard saying, “Here’s what we need to invent!” However, without the resources and a team of experts, this can be a daunting task for a dreamer.

In 2017, Innovation Lab partnered with Avera Health to provide creative thinkers a way to bring their ideas to life. Filled with hope and a lifetime of ideas, I enthusiastically began my journey to becoming a serial innovator. My purpose and passion transitioned from simply helping people to helping people help other people, and I’m happy to share insight learned along the way.

Inspiration and Empathy: The first step in the process is to have a purposeful awareness of people and situations around you, as problems are truly opportunities. I’m inspired by resilient people and their stories of perseverance – true examples of overcoming adversity. With empathy, I am fueled by imagining myself in their shoes and considering ways their day-to-day struggles could be alleviated.

Curiosity and Collaboration: Many ideas for solutions come from being observant and curious, and, as a professor, I love analogies and relating one thing to another. Inspiration for inventions regarding rehabilitation, infection control, positioning, patient adherence, ergonomics and wound care have come from strange places at all hours – including grocery stores, children’s toys, grass, hot-water bottles, fireworks and animals. I make sure to always have a method of capturing a quick idea or some thoughts for future development and keep information in an app on my phone. I also am a continuous learner and invite collaboration, as seeing what other professionals are doing in their scope of expertise might relate to an issue I am working to solve. Most innovations are not completely unique and use existing concepts applied in a novel way.

Process and Perseverance: Once I’ve observed, empathized and identified an issue to address, ‘thinking big’ begins. After defining the problem I’m hoping to solve, I contemplate, “If there were no barriers, what is the optimal outcome?” Simply, I consider the beginning and the end before working through the middle portion that connects the two dots. I’ve learned there are many angles and considerations in working through a problem, and ingenuity is an evolution. I keep a working file in progress with a system for recording ideas, working through the Lab’s submission questions, and tracking where each submission is at through the process. Significant time is spent researching the concept for existing solutions, drawing pictures or taking photos/videos to develop explanation analogies, and developing a strong persuasive case for acceptance prior to submission. A passionate pitch during the application intake call is vital for your Lab Engagement Executive to understand the concept, and I’ve found that video calls with demonstrations or supportive drawings and patient videos help to build your case. Once your idea is in the hands of the Innovation Lab, trust the process, stay in contact and allow their team of experts to do what they do best in the areas of analysis, engineering, marketing, and strategy. After all, there is a reason your idea isn’t a current invention – we all need a team.

Generosity and Humility: Once you’ve gotten your first proposal submitted, the hardest part is done, and you can repeat the process and continue to evolve and learn along the way. One of the best ways to develop yourself is to use your talents to benefit others. I’ve enjoyed providing input on other projects, being a Subject Matter Expert, encouraging and mentoring peers to get involved in submitting to the Lab, and providing tips and tricks to innovators just starting the process. The more I learn and put myself out there, the more I realize I rely on the team around me to be successful. I hope to be a member of that team surrounding other innovators as well.

Scientist and engineer Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” When the Innovation Lab team reported developing approximately one or two of every 100 submissions, I knew I had to learn through the process, acknowledge that not all ideas would be accepted, and of course play the numbers game! Right away, I set a goal of submitting one hundred quality proposals with the hope of getting one through the Lab pathway. I’m proud to say that I’m over halfway toward that initial goal, and several items are well on their way through product development to help me help other people.


Have an idea that you’d like to collaborate on with Innovation Lab to change healthcare delivery for the better? Submit your idea now.