Does Creativity Matter in Healthcare? 5 Rules for a Creative Culture

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Innovation and Entrepreneurship,Transformational Leadership

An interesting article worth reading in Fast Company about the company MailChimp highlights their approach to building a culture where creativity is encouraged.  In healthcare our emphasis is on reducing variation and developing standards of practice.  Physicians in general are analytical by natural selection, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for creativity.  The question is, how important is it to have a creative culture in healthcare?  Here are MailChip CEO Ben Chestnut’s 5 Rules for a Creative Culture:


5 Rules for a Creative Culture
By Ben Chestnut

1. Avoid rules. Avoid order. Don’t just embrace chaos, but create a little bit of it. Constant change, from the top-down, keeps people nimble and flexible (and shows that you want constant change).

2. Give yourself and your team permission to be creative. Permission to try something new, permission to fail, permission to embarrass yourself, permission to have crazy ideas.

3. Hire weird people. Not just the tattoo’d and pierced-in-strange-places kind, but people from outside your industry who would approach problems in different ways than you and your normal competitors.

4. Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can avoid the conference room and meet people in the halls, the water cooler, or their desks. Make meetings less about delegation and task management and more about cross-pollination of ideas (especially the weird ideas). This is a lot harder than centralized, top-down meetings. But this is your job — deal with it.

5. Structure your company to be flexible. Creativity is often spontaneous, so the whole company needs to be able to pivot quickly and execute on them (see #1).

Although Ben Chestnut’s Rule #1 to avoid order would be an impossible sell in healthcare, what DOES apply is the notion of keeping people nimble and open to change.  Change IS the name of the game in healthcare and the reality is change fosters a great deal of unease.  How can physician leaders create a culture that drives toward more standardization, while at the same time feels nimble enough to appreciate the chaos inherent in the journey?

Rule #2 is easier said than experienced.  Although some healthcare teams and clinical staffs have “fun” when it comes to celebrating birthdays, when it comes to the arena of ideas, the culture of the analytical is often intolerant of ideas that too novel.  A physician colleague recently proposed a book club idea in her organization — the books would be on topics of leadership, innovation, self-improvements.  Not at all a crazy idea, but it was met with initial skepticism.

Intentionally hiring weird people in healthcare isn’t typical.  However, bringing in outside voices and perspectives to healthcare transformation discussions  can be  eye-opening.  One insight from an outsider can be the tipping point for  redesign of a service line.

You won’t get disagreement from physicians leaders about Rule #4, avoiding the conference room. Meeting informally is one area where healthcare teams may already be ahead of the curve.  What will help foster creativity is for physician leaders to request their team members track the ideas that come up in these informal settings and bring them around to the whole team.

In my experience, physicians definitely appreciate and value flexibility, Rule #5, whether for their clinic schedule, meetings or projects.  However I find that STRUCTURE is an important prerequisite to “contain” flexibility and foster creativity.  It’s when the supporting STRUCTURE is broken down when I see cynicism and anxiety on the faces of physicians who are naturally good at keeping the structure stable.  The trick is to keep projects and discussions moving  forward in the face of multiple course corrections.

Does a Creative Culture in healthcare matter?  What is your opinion?

Previous post:

Next post: