Creative minds are to thank for some of the world’s most transformative innovations, including airplanes, cars, and electricity. At the time, these ideas might have seemed crazy. These inventions may not have been welcomed—in fact, their inventors were sometimes dismissed by those who didn’t believe in their visions. But that’s just the nature of creative ideas, says Jonathan Fanning, president and owner of Jonathan Fanning Consulting. He works as an author and entrepreneur, and was a keynote speaker at HFMA’s recent Revenue Cycle Conference.
“Culturally and individually, we love creativity only after it’s worked,” Fanning says. “We love creative people only after they’ve succeeded.”
What does it take to foster creativity and innovation, especially in the healthcare industry, where regulatory burdens and protocols are pervasive? Failure can be a difficult pill to swallow in a field where human lives are at stake. Think of what we would miss, though, if innovators like the Wright brothers hadn’t risked their lives for one more flight?
“We like to invest in predictability. The big challenge is finding out how to fail and learn and live,” Fanning says. “The world is rapidly changing, and the more quickly the world is changing, the more ready we need to be.”
It’s estimated that 70 percent of today’s children will one day work in a field that doesn’t even exist yet, Fanning adds. Our culture needs to find a way to handle new competition, new industries, and change—along with the global economy.
“It’s either change or be irrelevant,” Fanning says.
This doesn’t mean that we have to be creative all the time or make drastic changes, he adds. “We have to use questions to force change, and take those questions and tweak things over time,” Fanning says. “Big companies tend not to like change. So the question is, how do we change in small ways?”
Even the smallest changes can foster creativity. Linda Naiman, corporate alchemist and founder of Creativity at Work, a consulting, training, and coaching firm, says we as a society are losing so much time and creativity to things we don’t even realize. Email, social media, television—all of these take up our time and occupy our thoughts, and leave us with task saturation and poverty of time. “Creativity and innovation require thinking time,” Naiman says. “As a leader, you have to be able to carve out space for people to think and connect and collaborate to have candid conversations about things that matter.”
Take moments, make small changes, and give yourself time to think and generate ideas outside of distractions, Naiman says. It’s also important to feel safe in sharing those ideas—safe from being judged or dismissed.
Nancy Brown, CEO for the American Heart Association, agrees. “It’s critical to foster a culture of open and ongoing communication where people are encouraged to say what’s on their minds,” says Brown. “Every day, our staff and 33.5 million volunteers are empowered to solve problems and develop solutions through creative and out-of-the-box approaches that can make the greatest impact on health amid the rising threat of cardiovascular risk factors.”
That wouldn’t happen without the opportunity to foster creativity and curiosity, she says. “I learned early on that it’s vital to feed your curiosity about the world, ask people about their passions, and read as much as you can,” says Brown. “As a leader, you must be willing to pivot and adopt your strategy and business models to meet new market demands and expectations. Being well-versed has helped me anticipate changes, always think about the future, and be confidently decisive.”
The great thing about creativity and innovation, Fanning adds, is that it can happen in any part of someone’s life or work. “One of the beauties of innovation is it’s a part of our character and part of our habits. You can increase your creativity in any part of your life,” Fanning says. “Most creativity can be a tiny tweak. It doesn’t have to be a huge change. You can apply creativity and innovation anywhere.”
Strategies for Success
Fanning says he teaches five core strategies when it comes to promoting creativity and innovation. The first is to ask questions, and the second is to not expect to find an answer. “This can be hard. Take one part of your world that needs some creativity. You play around with questions, but you expect an answer,” Fanning says. “Can you feed your belief enough so that you don’t need an answer but you need continued motivation and work?”
This continued work leads into the next strategy of collecting: gathering ideas, learning new approaches, and absorbing experiences. Write down as many ideas as you can, he says, even if you don’t think they are any good. The fourth strategy, he says, is called the 5 percent rule and is the realization that most of these ideas that have been collected won’t work or will need to be changed. “Take all your different ideas and mash them together. Most won’t work,” Fanning says. “Most will have to change by 5 percent or more.”
These changes move the ideas from creativity to innovation, but innovation will inevitably lead to the fifth strategy—failure. Fail and fail often, Fanning says. “Get in the mind-set that what I do today will not be perfect,” Fanning says. The Wright brothers studied what those before them did—and died doing—to move their ideas forward. What if they had given up after their first failed flight?
Creativity Takes Effort
You have to separate creativity from innovation, Naiman adds. “Creativity has to do with the ability to come up with imaginative ideas and then turn them into reality. If you come up with ideas but don’t put them into action, you are imaginative, but you’re not creative. To be innovative, you have to be able to come up with ideas, and it requires creativity.”
Innovation is vital because it helps companies and leaders achieve and maintain a competitive edge. This is critically important in health care, she adds. “Health care is constantly innovating in terms of looking at ways to solve all kinds of problems, from health to management, leadership, and so on,” Naiman says. “But if you want an innovative culture, then you also need to foster creativity.”
Naiman says when she works with organizations and leaders to foster creativity at work, she first helps them understand the process of creativity and provides a framework. “Quite often when we’re in the workplace and we’re at a meeting and someone asks for an idea, the first person who puts forth an idea might get attacked,” Naiman says. “It’s really important to create an idea-friendly space for people to express themselves.”
Set criteria for how ideas should be developed and make the strategic objectives of the organization known, she suggests. Help to foster the generation of ideas around company objectives, and let it permeate every aspect of the job. “Creativity should be part of the work that you do, not separate and in a box,” Naiman says.
Rachael Zimlich, RN, is a healthcare writer from Cleveland.