When I consider all the organizations I have studied and worked with over the past 22 years, there can be no doubt: creativity gets killed much more often than it gets supported. For the most part, this isn’t because managers have a vendetta against creativity. On the contrary, most believe in the value of new and useful ideas. However, creativity is undermined unintentionally every day in work environments that were established—for entirely good reasons—to maximize business imperatives such as coordination, productivity, and control. This is even more true in the world of medicine; “untested” is a bad thing.
Surgeons cannot be expected to ignore the need for innovation and testing new things, of course. But in working healthcare systems built on established guidelines, safety first and indeed….adhering to the code of Do No Harm, we have designed organizations that systematically crush creativity.
What Is Business Creativity?
We tend to associate creativity with the arts and to think of it as the expression of highly original ideas. Think of how Pablo Picasso reinvented the conventions of painting or how William Faulkner redefined fiction. In business, originality isn’t enough. To be creative, an idea must also be appropriate—useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done—by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process.
The associations made between creativity and artistic originality often lead to confusion about the appropriate place of creativity in business organizations. In meetings, I’ve asked other leaders if there is any place they don’t want creativity in their companies. About 80% of the time, they answer, “Accounting.” Creativity, we seem to believe, belongs just in marketing and R&D.
Building an innovation system can yield improvement ideas that reshape health care practices, but this rarely happen seamlessly. The following excerpt from the IHI Innovation System white paper presents five types of challenges inherent in most innovation systems and what IHI has learned about overcoming them.
Challenge Creates Innovation
Personally, I have a great example where the two worlds (my creativity and lust for problem solving vs the “we have always done it like this”) meet. Go back a couple of years, and enter St Mary’s Hospital in London, an old building that looks like it has secret corridors, hidden passages and at least 3 floors that nobody can seem to access. The staff room is a small room with a floor that leans to the east, with a view over London’s rooftops and chimneys. The only way I can ever find it (yet to this day) is through the back entrance spiral stone staircase, up, up, up…
Standing behind a surgeon learning about the challenges they meet on a daily basis (every patient is unique) is an option to not just learn, but also to innovate. For me, it is a unique situation: I am the only Medtech CEO in the world that has the background of a trained ballerina combined with a women’s health education learning surgical game changer TVT from the inventor Ulf Ulmsten himself. I watch how surgeons move, I understand anatomy in a different way, and I can mimic movements down to individual muscles. I am trained to memorize patterns, flow and rhythm. I physically flinch when a move looks awkward or strenuous, and I instinctively know how to fix it.
Watching a surgeon getting frustrated by trying to correctly position the frame and tighten a screw on an old blue plastic retractor sparked one of those moments in me, and I was trying to lighten the mood in the room by commenting: “Not a great design, that blue thing!” I was rewarded with a grin from the scrub nurse, and a smile from the surgeon, who quickly replied: “Let me guess, you make a better one?!”
“Not yet, but I bet I can!”
Nothing makes me more interested to do something than someone telling me I probably can’t. I have a long list of things I have done, purely because of a challenge. Fast forward a couple of years, and Galaxy II is now a global brand, sold in over 40 countries in a range of surgeries. We have launched the worlds first ever light attachment (again a challenge I needed to solve, this time from surgeons doing charity work in Africa and needing better intra cavity light) and won The Queens Award for Innovation in 2021.
Expertise and creative thinking are an individual’s raw materials—his or her natural resources, if you will. But a third factor—motivation—determines what people will actually do. The scientist can have outstanding educational credentials and a great facility in generating new perspectives to old problems. But if she lacks the motivation to do a particular job, she simply won’t do it; her expertise and creative thinking will either go untapped or be applied to something else. Read more about Creativity in this Harvard Business Review Article: How to Kill Creativity (hbr.org)