Establishing CFI

Within six years of starting a skunkworks experiment, LaRusso and Brennan’s idea of building a group dedicated to medical practice innovation flowered into an enterprise-wide initiative dubbed the Center for Innovation (CFI).

LaRusso had initially sponsored the SPARC lab as a small, experimental program of the Department of Medicine. As the initial work began to show promise, LaRusso and other physicians in the Department of Medicine sponsored new projects and made practice innovation a central plank of the department’s strategic plan. A growing group of physicians, “the Friends of SPARC,” sponsored experiments within their practices and implemented design-inspired methods. For their part, the designers who came to SPARC began to develop procedures for working in Mayo’s distinctive culture.

Working with IDEO and other external design consultancies, LaRusso became a convert to the utility of design thinking in medicine. He brought leading designers to the Mayo campus to describe the discipline of innovation in service provision. In 2007, LaRusso’s educational efforts culminated in a conference sponsored by the Department of Medicine called the “Transform Symposium.” The conference organizers invited a veritable who’s who of designers and medical innovators to Rochester to discuss design with Mayo physicians and staff.

LaRusso’s efforts attracted the notice of physicians outside the Department of Medicine as well as the board of Mayo Clinic. When his term as  head of the Department of Medicine ended, LaRusso agreed to expand and formalize his innovation initiative by creating the CFI. Boosted by a generous gift, the CFI was introduced at the 2007 Transform Symposium. With LaRusso as its medical director, the CFI opened for business in June 2008, incorporating the SPARC group into its expanded structure. The center adopted an ambitious mission "to transform the way health care is experienced and delivered."

To deliver on its promise and serve its expanded clientele, the CFI hired more designers and incorporated more physicians into its structure. By mid-2010, the CFI had grown to 32 full-time employees, including seven designer-researchers. It also had 45 affiliated employees, including physicians, scientists, nurses, administrators, designers, analysts, software programmers, engineers, and liaisons with the legal and human resources departments.


Photo of Nick LaRusso

Watch Dr. LaRusso and Doblin CEO Larry Keeley discuss the expansion of the SPARC lab into CFI (YouTube version for slow connection).

Watch Tim Brown, Nicholas LaRusso, and Barb Spurrier discuss the staffing of the CFI (YouTube version for slow connection)


Explore the Center for Innovation website.

Read more about the CFI's mission, goals, and principles.

View a chart showing the growth of the CFI in numbers of employees.

Compare the CFI to Kaiser Permanente’s Garfield Innovation Center.