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Business Advisor
Get Your Creativity Juices Flowing
Charles Thompson
Publish Date: February 9, 2008

With declining reimbursement rates, high employee turnover and an unlimited number of safety and regulatory issues to worry about, running a surgery center can sometimes feel like you're juggling a bunch of hot rocks. The ability to look at a situation and be able to come up with a novel solution is a critical skill for you to possess. Here are 10 tips to boost your creative powers.

1. Be curious first ... critical second.
Don't rush to judgment with any idea you hear, no matter how "out there" it may seem. First, think about the possibilities. What's right about the idea? Avoid immediately saying "no" when people are throwing out ideas. No shuts down the person that came up with the idea. No shuts down your own brain, too. Nearly as important, don't say "yes, but..." and then explain why you think the idea will never work. Say "yes, and..." to encourage more riffing off the idea. It's like jazz. An idea may begin in one place and finish somewhere else, turned completely inside out.

2. Practice creative destruction.
Fifty years ago, health care was administered at home with house calls. Then it went into the doctor's office. The HMOs sent it into large medical centers. And now it's leaving the large medical centers and going toward outpatient facilities, doctors' offices and retail clinics. To be prepared for the future, you need to consider how you can creatively undo what's being done today. Imagine how you might put yourself out of business. If surgery centers were to disappear, where would the business go? Maybe that's where you need to be.

3. Start with the end in mind.
Think of the problem that needs to be solved. Maybe it's a place to store a rarely used anesthesia machine, or a way to reduce the number of rejected insurance claims. Imagine the result you want. What does it look like? Now, thinking backwards, imagine the steps you took to solve the problem. When you do this, you're using both sides of your brain. As you master this technique of imagining the solution, don't stop at the first fix that you find. Look for a second or third right answer.

4. What? Why? and How?
When trying to find a solution, ask three questions to define your challenge.

  • What is the result we want to achieve? Be specific.
  • Why do we need to achieve the result? Be passionate.
  • How are we going to achieve this result? Be bold.

5. Reframe your challenge.
Find an atypical analogy for your challenge and how it might be solved by other people or organizations. If you want to improve patient satisfaction, imagine what it would be like if Disney managed your surgery center. What would the place look like? How would patients be greeted and escorted through the process? If you're trying to improve turnover time, imagine that your center has been bought by a NASCAR racing team. What could you learn from the pit crew? Sometimes it makes sense to make the analogy a reality. That's what the Henry Ford Health System did in 2006 when it hired an executive from the Ritz-Carlton hotel company to become chief executive of the luxury 300-bed Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

6. Think in opposites.
List the things that you'd never do in order to solve a problem. Some ideas might be counter-intuitive or just plain too outrageous. Now, consider what would happen if you actually did those things. You may find that you can turn an opposite into an opportunity. This by far is my favorite technique to get our minds thinking outside the box. The challenge is having the strategic insight that lets you turn an opposite into opportunity. However, the rewards are endless, and this is where the competition is sparse.

7. Renovate while you innovate.
A creative facility is always evolving, even in little ways. Everyday, think about how you can streamline things. Do we need that Thursday meeting? Is that report or benchmark really necessary? In order to keep renovating, ask yourself these four questions:

  • What should we start doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we do differently?
  • What should we continue to do?

Phrases Guaranteed To Dampen Creativity

1. It'll never work.
2. I don't have time.
3. It's not in the budget.
4. The boss will never go for it.
5. We tried that before.
6. That sounds like something my kids would say.
7. Let's get a committee to look into this.
8. Because I said so.
9. Great idea, but not for us.
10 It's out of scope.

8. Never stop asking questions.
In most healthy and innovative organizations, there's a good amount of questioning going on. For a lot of us, it's difficult to ask questions because we got out of the habit decades ago. When we're 5 years old and at our most creative, we ask about 65 questions a day. When we're 44 years old, at our least creative, we ask just six questions per day, according to Dr. George Land in his seminal 1973 book on transformation, Grow or Die (Leadership 2000). Some of this has to do with school, where we were encouraged to memorize, and this continues on in adult life at work and at home.

9. Ask "Why?" five times.
Toddlers are infinitely curious and they want to get to the bottom of things. So they ask "why?" nearly non-stop. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation, found that the little ones are on to something. He determined that if you ask "why?" five times, drilling deeper each time, you should arrive at the root cause of a problem. Most people don't ask "why" often enough. If you ask "why" once or twice, you'll arrive at the symptoms but not the cause. The key is to ask the right "why" question as you drill down.

10. Smile.
When I'm having a tough day, I move my watch to my other arm. This way I guarantee that I'll look at my wrong arm to tell the time at least six times that day. When I look at my wrong arm, I put a big smile on my face. This turns my day of terminally serious frowns into a day with six extra smiles and untold opportunities for colleagues to see my humanity.

Don't turn it off
Finally, never cease to be curious, passionate and bold at work, at home and walking down the street. You'll find that the ideas never stop flowing and your career will flourish.