Want to know how to stop innovation before it even has a chance to start? It’s easy. Just apply a single phrase…“This is how we’ve always done it.”
The person repeating this tired expression is usually someone whose been in his or her field for a long time. A seasoned pro, if you will, that’s “been there, done that.” Those pros come with years of experience and are typically well sought-after by employers.
They have their methods, and for the most part, the methods seem to work. Their routines are tried-and-true. They get results. But –
What Happens When Staying Still Isn’t Enough?
The idea of functional fixedness is the enemy of innovation. Even if you’ve never heard the term, you’re probably familiar with the idea behind it.
Simply said, it means seeing objects as capable only of fulfilling their original function, and processes fall into this trap as well. In healthcare, we practice functional fixedness when we say, “I’ve done this for twenty years, and this is how I’ve always done it. Why should I change now?”
But the healthcare industry will always be in flux, and now more than ever, we need to stay nimble and flexible. Budget cuts and reimbursement changes mean that our processes and procedures will have to change. Does it mean that we’ve done it wrong this whole time? No. However, we’re now challenged to look at the same process and look for opportunities for improvement. At every level, the industry is shifting.
Ten years ago, “This is how we’ve always done it,” might have been a harmless crutch. But now, it’s a stumbling block. So, how can we break out of complacency and start innovating?
Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.–Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
The Big Question
Innovation happens when we’re willing to look at something and ask, “What would it be like if…?” Consider the scene from the recent Steve Jobs biopic, in which Jobs wondered, “What would it be like if you could carry all of your music with you?”
To some people, this seemed like a question that didn’t need to be asked. If you wanted to travel with your music, you would choose your favorite CDs and pack them along with you. It was how we had always done it… So why change now?
If Jobs had listened to the naysayers, then we would never have had the iPod or the other innovations that Apple produced. With each innovation, Jobs was able to create lasting changes not only to his company’s finances, but also to the technological landscape. However, this kind of innovative thinking isn’t limited to the technology industry.
Everyday Innovations in Healthcare
We’re already seeing innovative processes that are changing the way healthcare is experienced. For example, most healthcare organizations have moved to an open dining concept in which the patient can eat their meals at their desired times. Before, if you were a late sleeper, good luck on getting a hearty breakfast.
And who said an appointment has to be made by picking up the phone? Healthcare organizations have seen that patients are leaning more heavily on online resources and have responded by creating robust patient portals to manage their care. In most cases, it’s simply thinking about how to make things better. Innovation doesn’t need to be limited to addressing a situation that’s broken — you can also improve “the way we’ve always done it” and create positive, lasting change.
In healthcare, asking ourselves, “What would happen if…?” opens the door to innovation in direct care settings. And, as leaders, we can foster a culture that encourages creative thought. This sets up your staff to provide better, more patient-centered, adaptive care. Things are changing. “This is how we’ve always done it” is the kiss of death.
It’s easy to stand back and think about what isn’t working, to focus on what is less-than-ideal. But not everyone will wonder, “What would it look like if…?”
Let’s push ourselves to stay open and keep striving.