How to make the most of disruption

Re-thinking their approaches during this time of change can help leaders in healthcare, life sciences and government to innovate and enable their organizations to emerge stronger than ever.

By | 4 minute read | July 23, 2020

Editor’s note: In a complex system like healthcare, it’s easy to get innovation fatigue. But breaking free from traditional patterns can enable organizations to accelerate their learning curve and make the most of this extreme period of disruption. IBM Watson Health General Manager Paul Roma discussed these topics with Luke Williams, bestselling author and NYU professor at the IBM Health Forum. Here are some of the highlights from this conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Paul – I find that everyone loves progress, but they hate change. Why is it important to understand the “why” behind how people approach innovation in the new era?

Luke – There’s something called the paradox of change: the more uncertain things are, the more hunger there is for the certainty of fixed and rigid solutions. The “why” is important for finding purpose. But the ability to imagine things as they never were and ask, “What if?,” is even more essential. This needs to be happening all the time. A once-a-year leadership retreat or isolated brainstorming session doesn’t work. It needs to be an ongoing process, treated as rigorously as marketing, finance – disciplines that are codified and have process. Let’s take the magic out of this. We all need to get more comfortable with change, because it’s accelerating, flowing at a pace we’ve never seen before. How do we change the way we change? It has to be process-oriented and systemic.

Paul – When you think about change in the last few months in healthcare, it’s been remarkable. How would you guide people to discerning which changes will be the ones that stick?

Luke – First, let’s talk about the positive side of this period of disruption. It is accelerating the number of change initiatives. If we keep doing what we’ve done, and never change, we’ll get further away from what the world around us needs from us. We basically lose touch with reality. The more we are changing, the more we extract maximum value from what’s available and realign ourselves with the competitive conditions. Second, we have to think about how we use technology. If you’re only using it only to cook the existing recipes, you’re only going to get a little bit better. Instead, we can we use the technology that’s available, not just to cook the recipes we’re already using, but let’s ask: how can we use technology to fundamentally change the recipes? Healthcare doesn’t need more cooking. It needs the better recipes to stick.

Paul – How would you guide people to start changing the way they change?

Luke– There’s a fundamental difference between return on learning versus return on investment. We’re so far beneath our potential for innovation in all industries. One of the things holding us back is our focus on return on investment. You have to separate the world of what you’re currently doing from the world of what you could be doing. The future is about option value, not use value. Building your portfolio for optionality, most don’t understand it outside of a financial context, but it’s so important for designing the future. I’m not saying you should stop incremental innovations. But build the unconventional ones. Build as many possibilities as you can.

Paul – Over the last few months, many of us have moved to unconventional ways of working. What are you seeing in the practices in patterns of how people are working, and how will that evolve over time?

Luke – We are seeing a hybrid model, where people are driving more value out of working remotely and sharing ideas across screens. This is accelerating, especially in education. The key currency in a world of rapid change is the creative idea that can be translated into new ways of working. But what’s more important than the ideas themselves is our judgement of those ideas. It’s our rush to judgement our use of analytical logic to justify why the status quo is working – that just is getting in the way of us exploring new ways of doing things. You can critically analyze the past, but you need to constructively create the future. We need to understand that we might have to go back and change ideas that were once perfectly “right” in their time in order to move forward to better ideas.

Paul – You’ve said that healthcare as an industry is complex, which means it has its own inertia that is difficult to change. What advice do you have to help people grasp this period of disruption and use it as a force for change?

Luke – There are three ways to overcome the inertia of a complex system. First, you can block the most obvious path. If you detour from the main highway to much smaller side streets, you’ll find new alternatives. Second, you can escape from the fixed, dominant ideas that everyone is currently doing. And finally, you have the option to drop the old way of doing it. These are three techniques that are leverage points for effecting change.

Listen to the full keynote address, and access resources and demos, at the IBM Health Forum

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