Learning

“Creativity gets killed”

close up of human hand

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.

5 Innovation Challenges and Tips for Overcoming Them (ihi.org)

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)

“Fans jävla förbannade skitstövel!”

yellow tassel

If I am REALLY angry, I always curse in Swedish.

Despite having lived and spoken English for over 15 years now (I dream and think in English, apart from when I talk about memories and things that are “stored” in Swedish), I swear in Swedish.

Profanity is experiencing a renaissance right now. A Profanaissance, if you will. There’s more swearing on television than ever before, and even cursing at work is considered acceptable in a lot of places these days (assuming you’re not swearing at someone). Increasingly they’re an integral part of almost everyone’s language.

Part of the reason for the increase in cussing is that psychologists keep finding benefits to swearing. An F-bomb can help you tolerate the pain you feel when you stub your toe. Repeating curse words when you’re performing an athletic feat can make you stronger. People who swear more even seem to lie less. Basically, swearing makes you a powerful human incapable of deception(!). It’s like a superpower!

Though swearing has a number of advantages, for me, doing it in English is disappointingly unsatisfying: since it is not my native tongue, it just doesn’t do the trick. Why? In part, the reason is obvious: if you weren’t taught growing up that a word is bad, then it won’t seem that bad to you. It’s like when a child runs around screaming the F-word because they recently learned it. They won’t realize why their parents are looking on in horror until they’re scolded. It is MUCH easier for me to use REALLY bad language in English than it ever can be using the equivalent in Swedish.

Studying Our Swearing Habits

Expletives seem to hold a very special place in the human mind. In one study, a patient had a severe case of aphasia — brain damage that causes someone to have difficulty with language — but he still had the ability to swear.

Another study looked specifically at swearing in other languages. The researchers had Polish students translate texts that were filled with curse words, both general swear words and ethnic slurs, to see how they would translate them. When they translated from English into their native Polish, they tended to tone down how offensive the words were. When the students translated in the other direction, they scaled their offensiveness up. If this teaches us anything, it’s that it may be ideal to avoid ethnic slurs in a new language (if that wasn’t already obvious).

I have a lust for dessert!

Straight translations can be both entertaining and dangerous… For example, one of the German equivalents of saying “I want to have dessert” would be Ich habe Lust auf Nachtisch, which literally translates back to “I have lust for dessert.” If a German were to say this to you in English, you might be a bit weirded out because “lust” has certain… connotations. Alternatively, the dessert may be of a different kind that you originally had in mind!

I have learnt to be more careful with swearing in other languages. If you’ve only learned a word by reading it, you might think it’s something light-hearted when it’s actually not. The French love to use “fuck” liberally because there’s some emotional distance there, which can cause English-speakers to recoil. I am always VERY entertained by watching the interactions!

Even within a language, there can be differences in swearing culture. The British use “cunt” with wild abandon, whereas in the United States, it is probably the most taboo word. I personally find it VERY offensive.  

Swear words are culturally constructed, so to use them well, we need to learn about the culture that uses them.

Or should we just stop swearing in every language to stay safe? But fy fan, how boring would THAT be?!

My Dream-Me is pretty harsh…

Angela Spang

I have embarked on the daunting journey of writing a book….or three, more accurately. Apparently I have a lot to say (who knew)…

I have always been a fan of objective viewing of self, as we tend to be either overly critical or alternatively not clear on our strengths and how we should manage them in relation to other people (and their potential shortcomings in the same area), but I have to say that I am taking it to a new level now!

The other day I woke up in the middle of a dream, and clearly the book writing challenge has made quite an impact — I am obviously pretty occupied with the idea since I was actually DREAMING about it. This is slightly concerning since I haven’t actually written a SINGLE word yet! I am worried what is to come.

Stick to Twitter

Dream-Me

I woke up offended.

My Dream-Me was telling my real me to “stick to Twitter”. Ouch. I am all for straight communication, but that is HARSH feedback to someone who hasn’t even started writing yet! Clearly Dream-Me is not wasting any time! She isn’t wrong though: I have said for years that I like Twitter — the limitation of characters is a challenge and a blessing — better be succinct and not waffle. I have seen the same tendencies in myself when it comes to writing: I struggle with filling in long blank spaces in applications for funding or similar (maybe that’s why I never applied for anything apart from an epic double failure in a Horizon2020 application a couple of years back where the second attempt was actually scored WORSE than the FIRST one. I gave up after that.).

Realise when you are not the best person for the job

One of my strengths as a leader is to put the right person in the right place. I match make well between people and roles, and sometimes I see futures for people that they may have not realised themselves. This strength is useful here….I have absolutely no plans to become a writer. Just because I have STORIES to tell doesn’t make me a writer…those are different things. People who believe that authors should only write their own stories or you aren’t a real author if you don’t do the actual writing yourself haven’t thought long enough about it, imho.

After all, Authors have editors, illustrators, designers….and they use computers 😉

I will have a writing partner

She will take the jumbled words, the blurry memories, the ugly and unsaid, the beauty and the magic…and she will use her skill and talent to turn my secrets and my scars into something that we can all learn from. I will have to trust her; I know it will require me to be brave. I will tell her things I have never told anyone, and I am already scared.

Maybe that is why my Dream-Me is saying stick to Twitter. She is not wrong.

Will you read my books?

I don’t do guilt.

I find the idea of feeling guilty utterly useless. That does not, however, mean that I don’t sometimes fall into the trap of feeling guilty. But, I try very, very hard to a) identify it and b) get out of it as quickly as I can.

Guilt is not productive.

When I went to work after my first daughter was born, I set a rule for myself to not fall into the trap of feeling guilty:

I decided that when I was at work, I needed to be okay with being there, do my best and not waste any of the time I was there on feeling guilty — that certainly would not make anything better. I also frequently reminded myself that I had made the choice to go to work; therefor I should make the most of that decision and commit to it.

Similarly, I banned myself from thinking about work when I was home. I was SO FOCUSED on what I was doing, no matter where I was, no matter which role I was in at the moment. It required enormous amounts of discipline, and of course it didn’t always work; it was a new experience for me to feel inadequate about something I was doing, but if anything, that pushed me even harder to try to manage my thoughts and feelings about being a working parent.

Impact of guilt

Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion. There is a wide range of things to feel guilty about – from feeling guilty about eating the last piece of chocolate to feeling guilty about someone you hurt.

The feeling of guilt is unique from feeling sad or upset – guilt often combines feelings of shame, anxiety, frustration, and humiliation.

These emotions can well up inside and build over time, most especially if we never admit to ourselves that we made a choice and we are unhappy about it. Guilt can majorly affect our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Regardless of where the guilt comes from, the stress of the guilt itself can have a serious effect on some people. While mostly psychological, some physical effects can include insomnia, a loss of appetite, and an overall dreary feeling. Guilt happens to share a lot of symptoms with depression; and depression can develop within someone with severe guilt issues.

As you can imagine, having just started a new job, I had very little time for any of that, so I KNEW had to find a way to manage my emotions.

“Yeah yeah but HOW!?”

1. Make a list of WHEN you feel guilty. And then WHY.

If you feel guilty because you’re “not doing enough” for your kids, partner, or family, list all the things that you regularly do for them. Then, keep the list in your purse or wallet to pull out when guilt rears its head. Break the guilt thought (use CBT!)

2. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Just ASK!

Ask the people you think you’re neglecting whether they actually feel neglected. Consider whether they have a tendency to expect too much and not take enough responsibility for themselves (e.g., teenagers who expect you to pick up after them). Ask an outsider.

3. P.R.I.O.R.I.T.I.S.E

Prioritise. Be ruthless. What are the things someone else can do? For me, it is cleaning the house. Not just because someone else CAN do it…but also because it is cheaper than couples therapy, and as much as I love my partner, I have NEVER met two people who wake up and realise that it is cleaning time at the same moment….thus cleaning will inevitably cause friction in a household!

4. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.

Big or small things is less important, but you have to make sure you also look after yourself. Plan it, execute it, and acknowledge it. The simple act of reading a few pages in your new book every night can works wonders — if recognised and appreciated as an act of self care.

Summarize me and JUNE: Attempt 1

I have tried to summarize me in a few words for the Goldman Sachs 10k I am just about to embark on. How do you think I did?

Here is what I wrote:

Making healthcare better for the women and girls you love.

Multi award-winning innovator and serial entrepreneur. (thats from LinkedIn, true but braggy sounding on here.)

I don’t like Brexit

I am Swedish, living in the UK since 12 years, still struggling to not translate and try to explain swedish expressions (eg “There is no danger on the roof”) during business conversations.

Useless education

Trained ballerina, rocks parallel parking but can’t cook. Once burnt boiling eggs.

It’s complicated

Like talking strategy, change and people. Enthusiastic introvert who has to do the hakka before networking. Residential will take all my energy, but I am really looking forward to learning from everyone on the programme.

JUNE Medical

June was a code name from the beginning, but it got stuck so I kept it. We focus on surgical women’s health, anything that is in the operating theatre and give women the opportunity to get back on their feet faster, back to the life they want to live. We distribute medical devices for some of the largest companies in healthcare, as well as making our own solutions when we don’t find good products (Galaxy II is such a project).
I have been supporting The Fistula Foundation with surgical equipment for many years, and my GalaxyII project is an important cornerstone in that goal.
I am on the programme to ensure I make the best choices and optimise where and how we can contribute to improving healthcare for women and girls.

Why simplicity is important in innovation

It is so easy to fall into the trap of ego. You know you have a great idea, and you want to show the world how clever it is…well, it is easy to also want to show the world how proud you are of having thought of it!

And being proud is a good thing.

…Just not so proud that it derails your innovation. Let me give you a good example, witnessed often in previous roles in large corporations:

Clever person solves a problem. Clever person then tries to share solution with other clever people, but makes the pitch lopsided, and the OTHER clever people end up offering to help with THEIR solutions to the problem. Clever person leaves feeling devalued, demotivated and misunderstood.

So what went wrong?

The mistake was made to make the PROBLEM bigger than the SOLUTION. (We tend to do this when we want to build suspense, to really milk out the praise we think we deserve for our brilliant solution.) It then back fires, because we focus too much on the stage before the solution, and once everyone’s brain is in help and solution mode, it is very challenging to present a solution. Intelligent creative people love problem solving and are so eager to help, they can’t stop!

Try this next time

Instead of building up the problem too big and subsequently losing your moment to shine, try summarizing the discussion you want to have up front. Try starting with saying something along the lines of : “You know that x we have been mulling over? I have a solution I want to share with you today, and I am really proud of it!”

Be honest, know yourself and use your strengths. Innovation is only beautiful when it is simple, and everyone gets it.

(Just like a good joke is only funny if you don’t have to explain it.)

Leadership struggles

As a leader, one of the hardest things is to figure out when to push your employees, and when to back off. Finding the balance, different for each person you lead, is hugely challenging.

Sometimes leaders get fed up too, because in the end of the day, we all have rough days when we just want to roll over and pull the covers over our head. But as the leader of a team or a company, that simply isn’t an option. Your actions would impact too many, and for a long time. You need to stay professional, at all times. Moping has to be done at home, hidden away from those your emotions will influence, worry or offend.

Supportive leaders are great

But how do you make the decision to just stop helping and stop coaching? When do you say “enough is enough” and draw a line in the sand? For example, how much of our personal life’s should we bring into the office? When should we tell our teams to be professional and just get on with it? Is it right to have team members not pulling their weight because they are going through a tough time at home? Should a boss be a mentor, a coach or a psychologist? Or all of it?

Lead with kindness

I always advocate empathy and understanding and believe leading with kindness is right. But….here is a thought for consideration: Is it right to spend extra time and resources on the ones who aren’t performing? Is it fair to the other ones in the team, those who are doing well, even great? Shouldn’t THEY be the ones who get the time, the coaching, the support and the help?

If you want to lead a team of high performers, is it strategic to spend most of your time worrying about the low performers? Or is it time to just ditch the deadweight and go with the stars?

Pondering continues.

My biggest business failure (so far…)

It seemed like a slam dunk, and I was convinced it would be an easy win. After all, it was an under-served market, a simple product that required no training to switch to, and I knew we could make it for half the cost as the market leader, who had no competition. Slam dunk by far, right?

Wrong. 2 years later, our Galaxy retractor is not even in 20 hospitals in the UK market. I don’t get it. How can this not be the EASIEST SELL IN THE WORLD?! (You can tell I am frustrated by this!)

Procurement sell?

If my job was to save NHS money and still maintaining similar quality, I would want to freakin’ MARRY Galaxy. No re-training needed, British company and almost -50% cost. If all of the current product was switched out, the NHS would save half a million pounds…..ANNUALLY. Without ANY work.

How messed up is it what this discussion must happen surgeon by surgeon, hospital by hospital? And how frustrating is it, that a British company could create 5 more jobs, save the NHS millions of pounds AND do better for the environment (yeah, 10% less plastic waste too) and STILL not be the number one provider?

My Top Endorsed Skills

So, as a reasonably good (well…) business leader and someone whose Top Endorsed Skill on LinkedIn is Product Launch and Marketing Strategy from my career in medical device, I am considering this to be my greatest failure. We are doing something wrong, and I just can’t seem to figure out how to fix it.

It is taking too long: 2 years and we are nowhere close to where we should be. 2 years, 500k annually. A million pounds in wasted tax money, and in addition, money that is leaving the UK to an American company.

I want to save money for the NHS, keep the funding in the UK and grow our business so we can employ more people in Buckinghamshire instead of Connecticut. But I can’t for the life of me make it work.

That must be my biggest failure: it seems so OBVIOUS and SIMPLE, and yet I can’t crack it.

Any idea what I am doing wrong??

 

 

 

Product development and Launch – the JUNE MEDICAL way

I’ve done The Big

Because I have had the pleasure of working with larger corporations (I spend 10 years with JNJ, 3 with Allergan and 3 with American Medical Systems ENDO) I have quite a lot of experience of new product development and taking new things to market. I have had my finger in design, development, research, early stage testing, pre-launch and launch, as well as training and port market evaluations.

Long process, not always for the right reasons

Usually in one of the large corporates, a new product development idea goes through many rounds of iterations, with a lot of people who don’t have the faintest idea of what the patient symptoms are, what the available solutions are, what the surgeon need is or what the possible outcomes should be.

That’s where JUNE MEDICAL is different. Let me give you the example of this month’s launch: The GOKit.

I was sitting with Maria, nurse at St Marys Hospital, when she got yet another call from the consultant asking her to run upstairs and fetch something from Theatres (she works in Outpatient). When she came back, I asked about what I just observed, and it turns out that she quite frequently must run upstairs to collect a piece of equipment that is missing from the resterilizable trays they use in Outpatient. (Which also means she opens a complete sterile tray just for one or two missing pieces!)

Digging deeper

I asked her more questions, and then suggested a product we could make for her that would solve her problem of missing, broken or incomplete trays. She laughed and said “A new product will take years to be put together and approved!”.

I winked and reminded her that we are JUNE MEDICAL (!), and asked her to give me 3 months. She laughed and said the challenge was on. I was pretty pleased with myself when I casually strolled in just before Christmas and presented her with the first sterile sample kit of the new outpatient Gynae Tray, and she was absolutely over the moon – blown away with the quality and the low cost, saving the trust money.

In summary:

  • Know your stuff
  • Watch your customers and solve their problems
  • Work fast

 

Oh, and GOKit? See for yourself! www.junemedical.com/gokit/

 

Mentoring Questions Part 3: EXIT STRATEGY

My goodness, I had more to say on this than I thought!

Thanks for coming back to read this third part. 

I got a letter in the mail a couple of weeks ago, from a company who asked if they could sell my company for me. As one of the things they wanted to discuss with me, they had listed my exit strategy for when I wanted to sell my company. I told them I would #neversell , but I would be happy to hear what they thought the company would be worth. They didn’t respond. 

Anyway, it reminded me about something I always used to try to install in my teams when we embarked on large projects in the corporate world: Exit strategy. 

I have observed, as well as been a part of, teams or projects that keep going long after any sane and remotely objective person would have called it quits. Why? Because it is hard to say “I give up”. And it is even harder to do it in a corporate environment where nobody wants to be pegged as being negative or pessimistic. 

So what is the responsible and strategic way to go? Make an exit plan. (And then hope you never have to implement it!)

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