“Innovation is a team sport.”Frank Papay, MD
Albert Einstein reportedly once said that if the world were ending in one hour, he would spend 59 minutes clarifying the problem and one minute devising a solution. When I think of innovation, I think of finding a solution to a problem that creates value. Clarifying the problem first is key.
Don’t invent a south-pointing chariot. I learned that from Dean Kamen, one of the greatest living inventors. In ancient times, the Chinese developed a chariot with an incredibly complex gear mechanism to keep them pointed in the right direction. But all they really needed was a simple magnetic compass. When you’re problem-solving, don’t increase the complexity. The simplest solution is probably the best solution.
Innovation is a team sport. I liken it to a jazz ensemble, because I’ve played drums since I was a kid. You’re ad-libbing ideas with other people, other personalities. What I know, you might not know. And what you know, I might not know. But together, we create a flow of collective wisdom.
When I mentor young people, I’m careful not to discourage them. They often come at things with a fresh set of eyes and fresh ideas. They think: I don’t know if this is going to work, but let’s try it. And lo and behold, sometimes it does work and you come up with something great. As I get older, I also learn from younger people. I call it reverse mentorship. They mentor me, especially about new technologies.
We’re on this Earth for a very short time. I get a lot of fulfillment from working toward something that I can leave behind, something that will have an impact long after I’m pushing up daisies. That inspires me.
Frank Papay, MD, is Chair of the Dermatology & Plastic Surgery Institute at Cleveland Clinic. He was one of the leaders of the surgical team that performed Cleveland Clinic’s first total face transplant in 2017. A winner of Cleveland Clinic’s Sones Innovation Award, Dr. Papay is currently developing digital surgical loupes that integrate artificial intelligence and augmented reality to provide critical metrics in real time.