It’s been a busy couple weeks for the HFA Fellows! We’ve been up to Baltimore to speak with Dr. Suzanne Clough, Co-Founder and CMO of WellDoc, followed by a lovely lunch with 2014-2015 HFA Fellow, Sandra Hwang. Then we headed to the 2015 Diabetes Tech Society Meeting before flying to Ohio for the 2015 Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit. You’ll be hearing more about those conferences soon, but until then, here’s a little something that’s been on my mind throughout the Fellowship…
It’s not uncommon during these kinds of conferences and networking events for the people I meet to have a range of reactions when I share that my background is in civically engaged arts. There’s usually a bit of genuine surprise, followed by either a vague confusion or excited curiosity. So, I find myself doing a lot of explaining and reaching for tangible examples that illuminate why I do what I do.
After attending an Improv at Work gathering at MedStar Institute for Innovation a couple weeks ago in which the MI2 team builds professional skills through theatrical improvisation exercises, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why artists and creative practices have a place in healthcare innovation. There are a number of ways I could answer this question, and throughout the year, I’ll likely find so many more. But I’ll focus on one today:
Design processes are bread and butter of artists.
Whether we are dancers, poets, potters, or tuba players, all artists have some sort of personal process for creating work. These processes are often iterative and fluid, much like the human-centered design process that is making its way into innovation hubs in health systems across the country. In fact, when you compare the process I might go through as a choreographer of dances, it’s not far from the process the HFA Fellows are currently going through as choreographers of healthcare innovation, if you will.
In each, the exploration phase is the same: gathering information about a burning question, a stone that’s gone unturned, a piece of the world, however small or large, that warrants attention. The second phase is about getting as much movement and as many ideas on the table as possible, which probably looks entirely different in each process (improvising in the studio vs. the hallmark design thinking sticky notes). The third step, in both processes, is about homing in on the ‘right’ answers by trying a lot of ‘wrong’ answers first. Both processes involve a lot of “Let’s try it this way…Ok, now this way,” and quite a bit of feedback from collaborators and colleagues as well as potential audience members and consumers. The fourth and final step is also, in both cases, often not the definitive end of the process. Whether it’s a piece of choreography onstage or a product out in the world, feedback will oftentimes continue to be received and integrated and the learnings from this design experience will influence the next one.
So why artists and human-centered designers (and those who wear both hats) in healthcare?Because we are willing create in the absence of a ‘right answer,’ to convince others to see possibility in the grand mess of things. We are willing to put our ideas out into the world with a confident desire to be heard and an earnest desire to listen. We return to the drawing board with our heads held high, able to face complexity with humility. We challenge ourselves and each other to ask “What if…?” and “Why not?,” and together, we build the answers we want to see.