3 Things the Ebola Crisis Can Teach Us About Innovation

Crisis, Opportunity, Lessons (1000x300)

If your media sources look anything like mine, it is most likely consumed with news of the latest Ebola crisis, and the disaster response it has become.  From every crisis, there is an opportunity…and within every opportunity, there are lessons to be learned.

Such I feel is the case in this situation.

Many organizations claim to be innovative, however, when push comes to shove, I believe the real innovators can be separated from the rest of the pack in moments of adversity and crisis through the lens of the 3″A” rule: (a) Agility, (b) Adaptability, (c) Accountability

Let me explain.

Since health systems are at the forefront of this crisis having to cope with the potential risks of Ebola stricken patients entering its facilities, I feel it’s best to use our US-based hospital network as a case example of what we can learn.  Being the first hospital to be exposed to an Ebola patient, Texas Health Presbyterian is getting a lot of heat for the mistakes made along the way…and yes, there were many mistakes.  But to me, this is not surprising since there has never been an Ebola specific playbook in the past to run by.  It’s probably safe to say that any hospital put in a similar situation would have made some mistakes along the way. Unfortunately, in healthcare, there is little room for error; and even the slightest mistakes can put many people in harm’s way.

(I want to be clear…I’m not justifying what’s been done, but rather trying to understand the root cause of such a misguided response and how we can prevent such fumbles going forward.)

I personally know much of the leadership at Texas Health Resources and can safely say that they are some of the brightest, most ethical folks in the industry with the best of  intentions whom I deeply respect.

So why such a slip and why the falter in face of adversity?

In my opinion, organizations that possess a true innovative culture – down to its core DNA – are the ones able to successfully respond to critical adverse events. Unfortunately, these type of innovative organizations are far and few between.  Many organizations that I have direct experience with ‘talk’ of their innovative intentions, but only a select few can actually ‘walk-the-talk’. This is especially true within our century old, antiquated health systems; and must be addressed going forward if we truly want to innovate our way towards a better future .

3 A rule (1000x300)

So back to the 3 “A’s”…

What are the characteristics of organizations with a true innovative culture that can successfully respond to such events vs. those that are just lip-service?

  1. AGILITY: Analysis paralysis is the arch-enemy of innovation.  Requiring approvals and validation through a series of hierarchical steps only leads to a potentially greater crisis at hand.  Such was the case the Ebola crisis. Because a pre-written playbook was not readily available, any pro-active measures that could have provided preventative protection ultimately became a reactive response that was unfortunately deployed too little, too late.  Being able to respond proactively in an agile fashion to ‘first do no harm’ should be an obvious mantra empowered to each and every employee.
  2. ADAPTABILITY: Innovation requires a ‘hack and hustle’ mentality.  Most large corporations, including our own integrated delivery systems in healthcare, are only structured to execute on rigid protocols. What happens when an unexpected situation enters the realm, such as the Ebola crisis? Chaos ensues because they are unable to adapt to the unique crisis at hand.   Sometimes, being risk-averse ultimately creates more unintended risk that could have been prevented.  At the very least, we must empower our employees to problem-solve more creatively when the situation calls for an adaptive response that was otherwise unexpected.
  3. ACCOUNTABILITY: True innovators rise with success, and are equally willing to fall with failure. The blame game does little to make forward progress and eventually acts as a distractor from the real task at hand. In healthcare, the importance of accountability is amplified because people’s lives are at stake. In retrospect, I believe Texas Health Resources response to their unintentional fumbles would have been better served had they admitted to their mistakes and used them as a learning opportunity to help prevent other health systems around the world from making the same mis-steps.

So again, I’m not trying to chastise our industry’s health response to Ebola, but rather constructively highlighting a key innovative gap that has plagued our antiquated health systems for way too long. We, in a sense, have our own virus to extinguish. We need to re-design the culture of our organizations to be able to respond to such crises with agility, adaptability, and accountability.

Ebola may be here today, but lets prepare our organizations to be able to effectively respond to the unknowns of tomorrow.

How would you have responded to the crisis? What additional characteristics do you believe are fundamental to creating a culture of innovation?

Please comment below.

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