This post was written by Sarah McAfee, a former member of our team.
Many years ago, as a sophomore in college in Arizona, as part of a class assignment, I had to determine what my ideal place to live would be. Being a closet Excel fanatic, I went for a color-coded, conditionally-formatted, sorted, filtered, nested-formula-filled, explosion of a spreadsheet to try and calculate the answer to this very subjective question. Having entered all my variables, location options, weights, and grades, all I had to do was scroll to the bottom of the screen and learn the name of my City of Dreams.
There it was in black and white: Denver, Colorado. A city I had never visited, and a state in which I knew not a single soul.
Several years later when I was ready to move on and wasn’t sure where to move on to, I was reminded of that assignment. Placing a lot more trust than I probably should have in my 19-year-old self, I threw everything in a U-Haul and drove out to Colorado. As it turns out, it’s easier to be confident in a big decision like that when you have the data to back it up.
Now a six-year resident of this beautiful state, I’m lucky enough to be working for an organization that has this concept built into its DNA. Here at CCMU, we call it “empirical creativity”, and it’s an idea from Jim Collins’ Great by Choice. It’s the idea that rather than innovate with reckless abandon, you do small tests and collect data to first make sure you’re on the right track, and then launch the all-out blitz once you’re sure you’re on to something real. It’s letting your head go into the clouds and dream big, but keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground in a bed of data, facts, and observations.
So that means that for us, good data is mission critical. Without the great work of the data collectors and analyzers in our state—organizations like the Colorado Health Institute, and surveys like the Colorado Health Access Survey—we wouldn’t have the information we need to make the best decisions possible.
Today, the Colorado Health Foundation released their latest Colorado Health Report Card and we learned that our “Healthiest State in the Nation” crown is pretty tarnished. We’re in the middle to the bottom of the pack on many important indicators—especially the ones reflecting the health of our children—and losing ground on others. New this year, the Report Card also includes information on what we would need to do to reach #1 in each indicator, such as getting 32,600 high school students to quit smoking and finding a medical home for another 123,400 kids. This is good news—not because we’re doing so well (we aren’t), but because having this data helps us set priorities and make decisions about how to move forward.
Now is the time for the creativity part of empirical creativity. Now is the time for unusual partnerships and outside-of-the-box pilot programs. The data allows us to see where we need to focus, but places no restrictions on how we get there. Our communities are hot beds of health care innovation, and if we each do our part, we can accomplish great things.
My spreadsheet was right—this state is where I belong. And with a little more work, all our collective dreams for Colorado can come true.