Inspiration for change

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 In your relentless search for new ideas to tackle old, intransigent problems, where do you seek inspiration? 

I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last couple of weeks catching up with colleagues who are buckling under some fearsome pressure in the NHS, about which we all know such a lot and are in different measures concerned, anxious, optimistic, fearful and determined.

As a little ray of hope in those discussions I have shared my most recent inspiration and it has prompted some really helpful conversations. In the spirit of that I share it here.

Don Tapscott is a fabulous thinker and speaker on innovation and technology amongst other things. He is recognised as a global thinker and has done a pretty engaging Ted Talk on what he calls the four new principles of the open world. I think it has some lessons for us and is a lovely little example of keeping your mind open to new solutions for old problems. His starting position is that the internet is a force for a cultural and social revolution in much the same way as the first Guttenberg printing press was; changing entirely not just the way we think, but our whole understanding of what constitute knowledge, power and the way the world works. For us I think that means that if the NHS is largely an institution still built on the principles of the industrial age we need to rethink the institution around a different set of principles.

His principles are as follows;

The first is collaboration – not just in the traditional sense of working together but by thinking about our organisations as much more porous and open. Specifically, thinking differently about who forms our organisation. Who do we look to for creative ideas? And how can we use tools like social media not just for communication but for social production? What if your organisation became everyone who opted to have a voice, a view, a thought or an idea? So for example; in tackling your pressures over winter, how wide are you casting your net to source different thoughts and ideas about how you change the way you work so that it serves our needs differently? Is the room filled with the usual suspects?  Has all your work happened in meetings rooms, around tables looking at spreadsheets and sharing what you all already know? Tapscott’s examples (shared in the TEDTALK above) refer to how bottom line company worth can be expanded applying his new definition of collaboration. It doesn’t have the same currency for us, bottom line worth, but the resource implications are significant – if we think of resource generation operating in an intellectually networked and truly collaborative organisation. You can apply these principles as easily if you are the chief executive of a large organisation or a leader of a small team – think first about the principle of collaboration. How might you be restricting the solutions before you start by restricting the collaboration you are open to in generating new ideas, new thinking, and new perspectives?

His second principle is transparency. I think we’ve talked about this a lot in the NHS and yet the reactions I get from people I speak are still largely defensive. This feels entirely counterproductive to me. First let’s not pretend we have a choice – whether you like it or not information, teams, organisations will be open and exposed – you are going to be naked! And second, as Tapscott puts it – if you’re going to be naked you’d better be buff! So let’s spend less time trying to hold back the inevitable tide of openness and transparency that will define our world and more time thinking about what that means for us in how we do the work we do. Our values, promises, performance – everything about who we are and how we behave as individuals, teams and organisations will be open for real scrutiny. So let’s make sure we get ourselves in shape for that. That’s not about the cloak we wear to put a managed front out to the world, it’s about making sure we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we’ll do.

He goes on to talk about sharing -embracing a sense of common intellectual property, learning and development. I think we are open to that in the NHS, and just need to think creatively about how we do it. And about why we don’t use the opportunities afforded to us even more.

His final guiding principle is empowerment. Knowledge and intelligence is power. If your team or organisation is adopting these principles of openness then an inevitable consequence is the sharing and distribution of power. In whose hands will decisions lie and become enacted? If your search for creative solutions is wide, inclusive and collaborative how do you reflect that in the means of production and delivery? For us in the NHS this extends of course not just to our staff but to our patients, carers, citizens and communities. What does that mean for the way your team is organised, how it works, how it is held accountable and how it is measured? Too often we try to adopt new ways of working without changing the environment in which we work. A toxic or unreceptive environment will always be the biggest threat to innovation. How do we create a more receptive environment built around a truly empowered group where innovation will flourish?

So this is my latest inspiration – thoughts from abroad, used just as a provocation to myself about how it tilts my current thinking. Some of this may prompt thought – or it may not resonate. The important thing is to keep open and receptive to new provocations to think.

If this doesn’t work for you what does? And how can we help?