July 2015
Volume 6, Issue 7

Can Innovation Exist Without Implementation?

Growing a great idea takes nurturing

By Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT

Innovation is only half the equation for success. We must make something of it, or it doesn’t count for much. Innovation can be in the form of a new idea, device, or process, and is typically driven by a need for better quality, reduced costs, or some other improvement. But as necessary as the innovation might be, it may never get off the ground if not managed correctly. Understanding strategies for project management, leadership, team building, technology integration into a laboratory, and communication is essential as we ask ourselves: Can innovation exist without implementation?

Our industry has been in a state of change for many years. By the early 1980s, the ceramics side of dental technology had not changed much in the previous 2 decades. At that time, implant technology and feldspathic veneers entered the market. Although the adoption of implant technology was slow, that segment has now become common and could eventually eliminate the need for 3-unit bridges. Veneers, once painstakingly difficult to fabricate, now can be milled or pressed, making them one of the most popular cosmetic restorations for laboratories, dentists, and patients. These examples have changed our industry, but the path had been long and circuitous at times. So the answer to the question above is no. Implementation is an important piece of the innovation puzzle. When it comes to a new technology that is about to disrupt a laboratory’s workflow, careful planning is critical.

Simple Steps to Success

Management clearly communicating its vision for an innovation is the first step. The employees must understand that the project is important for the future of the company and that management expects a positive outcome. Employees should know that if they successfully implement the project, they will be rewarded. This message needs to come from the top and must be firm.

One of the most common causes for failure is a poorly defined goal and what needs to happen in order to reach it. Clear actions leading toward the goal must be determined and then delegated. Once the project starts, someone must monitor it to ensure progress. Communication of results, good or bad, encourages two important things. Positive results shared along the way motivate the team to keep going. Everyone loves to win. Negative results, if presented in a constructive way, can lead the team to suggest areas for improvement. Sometimes, implementation of an innovation requires innovative ideas.

Employees need the proper tools to reach the goal, which can include training on the use of the new materials or equipment. It also can involve management’s support and understanding that employees may have a steep learning curve for new technologies, and that the technician’s output may slow temporarily. In the meantime, the workload distribution may need to be readjusted to maintain the department’s production levels.

Types of Innovation

Many studies and papers have addressed innovation and its impact on society and industry. But two distinct types of innovation can apply easily to our industry. Sustaining innovation usually takes an existing technology and increases its value—the jump drive, for example. Disruptive innovation refers to something new that eventually displaces an existing technology—such as Blu-ray. The use of zirconia in restorations has been a disruptive innovation to our industry, but the newest CAD/CAM equipment is a sustaining innovation. For example, when 3M ESPE introduced Lava™, the mills required for its fabrication cost close to $500,000, making it nearly impossible for many laboratories to even touch that technology. Today, the technology has improved and mills are available at a fraction of that cost. This is a perfect example of sustaining innovation.

The term disruptive innovation sounds negative. However, the case can be made that zirconia has made a positive impact on dentistry. Zirconia has completely changed what we, as laboratory technicians, do daily. No other product has impacted dental technology the way zirconia has since PFM was introduced, but some really positive things have come from it. First, technicians used digital technology—an innovation on its own—to fabricate a zirconia crown. Once we all realized that zirconia wasn’t going anywhere, we accepted digital technology in the laboratory as inevitable and put our technicians in front of computers. Zirconia has all the benefits of a metal-free or all-ceramic crown without the high risk for fracture associated with an all-porcelain restoration. The use of this material is also considered an economical solution for patients who cannot afford a more expensive crown. But the financial benefits don’t stop there; more dentists prescribe it in an effort to make ends meet in their practices, as well. The case also can be made that there has been an adverse impact on our industry, similar to when the mass-produced automobile made a huge negative impact on the horse-and-buggy business but a positive one for the public.


Implementation of the zirconia innovation, or any of the new digital products that have stemmed from it, required diligence and consistency. Without a successful implementation, even the best innovations will remain just ideas.

Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT, is the owner of SvK Consulting in Newport Beach, California.

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