Monday, March 12, 2012

Health Care Creativity Myths

The image of the “creative type” is a myth – and why not - a hot shower, a cold beer, or a trip to your colleague’s desk might be the key to your next big idea.

Introduction to a Wall Street Journal article “How to be Creative, “March 9, 2012

March 12, 2012 - The slogan for these blogs is “Where Innovation, Health Reform, and Practice Meet.” Over the last 5 years, I have focused on innovation and health reform and how these phenomona affect physician practices.

Although I have written a book on innovation Innovation-Driven Health Care: 34 Key Concepts for Innovation (Jones and Bartlett, 2007), the process of how creativity works remains a foggy proposition to me.

I do, however, know of one foggy example of where creative health care innovations thrive. Many arise out of the San Francisco fog and the innovation ambience of nearby Stanford University, from whence many of the major information companies like Google, sprang, and from Silicon Valley.

As Andrew Tedlow, a Harvard Business School Professor and author of Andy Grove has observed:

“What is Silicon Valley? It is a geographic location but also a state of mind. It is a place where the intensity of the desire to make money can hardly be overstated. However, neither can one overstate the intensity of the desire ‘to make a dent.’“

The Silicon climate of creativity, with entrepreneurs mingling with venture capitalists, boosts innovation. A creative idea without capital is like the brain without oxygen. Access to capital is what makes America so exceptionally innovative. Entrepreneurs from around the world flock to Silicon Valley like moths to a flame. Yet Silicon Valley is but one of 1200 incubation centered in the United States, a big reason why are such a creative nation.

Jonah Lerner in his new book How Creativity Works (Houghton Mifflin, March 2012) claims creativity consists of a set of cognitive skills that can be developed and circumstances that can be simulated. Creativity, he says, frequently comes from people and stimuli outside of one’s narrow field of interest. Lerner preaches: Open your mind, and ideas fly in and out.

Lerner writes that unlikely things may trigger mind-opening creativity. He cites controlled studies showing the following stimuli significantly help people solve creative puzzles.

• Humor – the source of playwright Neil Simon’s amazingly creative career.

• Alcohol – a common stimulus many famous writers and artists.

• Unlikely places and situations, i.e., Archimedes in his bathtub and Sir Isaac Newton with an apple falling on his head

• Putting together combinations of things that already exist – artistic product design and technology – as Steve Jobs did with the Apple computer and its various spinoffs – Iphone, I Pad, and IPod.

Lerner suggests these circumstances and surroundings creative people use to ignite ideas.

1. They surround themselves with the color blue- the reason of this escapes me.

2. They get their best ideas when groggy – when half asleep, just awakening, or in mental fog or subconscious sub alert state

3. They constantly daydream and often seem in a trance.

4. They think like a child and never put away children thoughts.

5. They watch humorous videos to trigger laughter.

6. They imagine themselves or the problem they are trying to solve as emanating from a foreign country or strange place.

7. They keep their thoughts generic rather than thinking linearly or narrowly.

8. They think outside the box and often wander outside their cubicle or office or home base.

9. They see the world and often travel abroad to look at themselves the way others look at them and to gain perspective.

10. They move to the city where most creative people hang out.

I do not find Lerner’s list terribly helpful in health care. Maybe that’s because, like many physicians, I am anally retentive, too compulsive for my own good. Creative people like to play with wild and crazy ideas, approach problems in fanciful ways, and bat their ideas around with colleagues in social situations. Creative people often go to bed with a problem and awake with the solution.

The right brain, the so-called design mind and imaginative side of the brain, is more creative in solving problems than the left brain, the linear or scientific lobe. But in developing finacially feasible, start-up, it takes two sides of the brain to tango.

In her book Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, Henrietta Anne Klaussner (Harper and Row, 1986) lists these differences between the left and right brain

Left brain
– sequential, step-by-step, verbal, analytical, rational, time-centered, aggressive, objective, interested in details, linguistic, detects features.

Right brain
– simultaneous, multiple, visual, synthetically, intuitive, timeless, yielding, subjective, wants overview, musical, notices patterns.

Still, having said all of this, it is doubtful innovations, even disruptive innovations with radically creative ideas, fueled by the Internet, will “fix” the health system. Online information doesn’t necessarily help creativity. Instead, it may clutter the mind.

Health care is a human experience. Experience cannot be duplicated online. Ask Google. Google shut down Google Health. EHRs don’t replace doctors. They can’t simulate human experience. They store data. Data do not have souls – or human magic. Electronic records do not tell a story.

You can't take a pill online. You cannot have virtual surgery. Technology doesn’t fit every human keyholes.

Innovation isn’t going to fix the health system soon, but it’s worth trying. Mind stretching is good. The creative mind never returns to its original shape, and that's good.

Tweet: Innovation and creativity may be the way out of the U.S. health care quagmire but how one gets from the swamp to higher ground is a mystery.

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