It’s hard to believe that almost one year ago I was driving to Washington, D.C. to start my journey as a Health for America at MedStar Health (HFA) fellow. As I started the drive, I began listening to an audiobook, one of our fellowship pre-read recommendations by HFA’s executive sponsor, Dr. Mark Smith: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. Just a few months later, I experienced the wisdom of Steven Johnson in person at the MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2) Forum where he explained his belief that innovative ideas are built up from years of hunches.
I have always enjoyed being around a diverse group of people, learning about different subjects, and working to connect the dots. I now realize these experiences of knowledge gathering and dot connecting are what makes innovative ideas eventually come to life. And what’s at the core of this process for me? Curiosity and collaboration.
“Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.”
- Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
Be curious and question the “norm”
My curiosity continues to guide my HFA experience and will drive my career path. Johnson’s words and my fellowship experience have inspired me to pick back up other books by authors tackling the subject of innovation—one being Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Having heard Grant speak at an entrepreneurship conference in the past, I remembered some connections between the two authors’ works. Like Johnson, Grant suggests that innovation is made up of years of experiences (“hunches”) that foster a new perspective and curiosity.
“The starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place. We’re driven to question defaults when we experience vuja de, the opposite of deja vu. Deja vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse—we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems.”
- Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Throughout our everyday experiences, habits become default and seemingly normal. Once we find a new perspective on what we believe to be “normal,” we can get curious about finding new ways to solve old problems. If something isn’t working, what is at the core? If someone is chronically ill, where have their symptoms started? It’s in the times we stop to realize there is a problem that needs to be addressed, rather than accepting it as normal, that we can drive change.
In May, at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health, I learned about the Whole Health System, presented by the Veterans Health Administration. The Whole Health perspective innately exemplifies this curiosity-driven approach by connecting the dots in health and healthcare. Providers with a Whole Health perspective exude curiosity by looking outside of the box—or outside of the body’s symptoms—to help their patients achieve greater overall health.
During my undergraduate studies, a professor asked my class what interdisciplinary meant to us. As an industrial designer, I have enjoyed being tasked with designing a product or service to solve a problem in which I may or may not be an expert. I learn everything I can then more from collaborating with interdisciplinary teams, understanding user experiences, and making use of resources such as books and journals; connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated but connected ideas.
Without others’ expertise and point of views, we can pigeonhole ourselves in one belief or understanding. Working with physicians and business professionals while starting my career outside of the formal healthcare system, I was able to bring an entrepreneurial and “outsider’s” point of view to developing and innovating within a highly complex care delivery system. The interdisciplinary experience I got inside of the system expanded my understanding of how to implement a new point of view.
While immersed in the MedStar Health system during my fellowship, the advice of authors like Steven Johnson and Adam Grant has continued to resonate: I’ve stayed curious and cultivated an appreciation of the variety of stakeholders involved. I’ve staked my success, and the success of the initiatives I’ve helped develop, on interdisciplinary collaboration. Ultimately, this is what has made it possible to drive curiosity into feasible solutions.