What is inconspicuous innovation?

Inconspicuous Innovation
This image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2 - Abstract watercolor of inconspicuous innovation

Often when we hear the word innovation we think of grand inventions such as the lightbulb, the car, or the iPhone.

For most companies and employees I would argue that it is more important to focus on inconspicuous innovation. Small, incremental innovations that very quickly become normalized such that they feel like something that always existed.

These innovative ideas typically come from unexpected connections when broadening your field of vision.

Most often, one inconspicuous innovation is unlikely to be a difference-maker; however, if the process of seeking out these incremental innovations is institutionalized, it could become a significant competitive edge for your company.

As an example - a company needed to audit the visit notes that a therapist writes after seeing a client. At the time, this was a manual process for the company wherein they would have someone spot-check various notes by hand. The goal is to try and uncover potential fraud. Typically when a therapist copies and pastes a note from one patient to the next it can often be a red flag that the session did not happen and the therapist is committing insurance fraud.

We implemented a solution to use natural language processing and run document similarity analysis across all notes a therapist had written. This allowed us to create a matrix of similarity “hot-spots” from which the manual reviewer could focus on only those notes which had been flagged by the system as having high similarity.

In hindsight, this “innovation” seems rather obvious and not very impressive. However, no one had made that connection before. In both fields the technique was common knowledge - document similarity analysis is a solved problem in natural language processing and auditing therapist visit notes is a practice that dates back many, many years in the medical domain. However, it took someone opening their field of vision across two domains to make the connection for this inconspicuous innovation.