This post was written by Sarah McAfee, a former member of our team.
By day, my husband develops new ways to evaluate the academic growth of at-risk students; by night and on weekends, he is a talented woodworker. He tells me he’s not very creative though. I’ve actually heard that self-critical sentiment from a lot of people: “I’m just not the creative type.” I finally pressed my husband on it, asking why he didn’t consider himself creative when there are so many indications to the contrary, and we realized that our definitions of creativity are out of alignment. I consider creativity the ability to form original ideas, problem solve with unusual or unexpected solutions, imagine new ways of doing something, find hidden patterns, or draw connections between seemingly-unrelated concepts. He considers creativity the ability to draw well.
There’s no denying that his handwriting is illegible, and so are his Pictionary drawings; if that is the standard by which we measure creativity, then I agree with his assessment of his skills. Fortunately, I believe creativity comes in many forms, and the ability to draw isn’t even one of them.
At CCMU, we talk a lot about creativity. I counted at least fifteen of our past blog posts that include it, and it’s a regular topic in our meetings, as we call for creative thinking around the challenges facing our health care system. Creativity is a hot topic in health care; as Markus Fromherz, the Chief Innovation Officer at Xerox, said in Forbes, “The truth is, when it comes to the health of our population and the state of health care in this country today, we need fresh ideas.”
Fortunately, Colorado has a lot of creative thinkers—whether they know it or not. In northeast Colorado, Rural Solutions is training bankers in suicide prevention to address the high rate of male suicide in the region. Financial stress is one of the primary motivators of suicide, and many ranchers and farmers are reluctant to seek professional counseling to cope; however, they already interact with their banker, and now their banker will be able to recognize signs of distress. Another great example of creativity in Colorado’s health care scene is the reinvention of local libraries as community health hubs, which Joe talked about in a recent blog post. Some creative solutions seem obvious in hindsight but are controversial when they begin. For example, amidst concerns and disagreement about a much-too-high teen birth rate, an initiative provided free or low-cost long-term birth control to young women in Colorado. Five years later, the state’s teen birth rate has dropped 40%–an unqualified success.
Sometimes creativity in health care bears fruit in the form of wholly new technologies or developments; more commonly, yet just as importantly, it results in new applications of ideas or resources that are time-tested. Whether it’s retooling an effective practice from another industry, such as the introduction of checklists in surgery to reduce errors, or finding a new use for a resource already at our disposal, such as having 911 operators conduct well-checks for the elderly and disabled, creativity breeds fresh ideas.
It doesn’t take a special degree or some level of training to be creative: all it takes is a willingness to question our assumptions about how health care works and should work. So, as we head into the New Year, we hope you won’t leave creativity to the “creative types.” We hope you’ll turn tricky problems on their head to get a new perspective. We hope you’ll look for ideas from other sectors and apply them to your work. And we hope you’ll share your thoughts with your colleagues and partners so those ideas can flourish. No drawings required.