Yesterday I went to the Drawing Matters Symposium in York. It was a day of inspiring talks and presentations, all grappling with drawing and its pros and cons. I even met a couple of healthcare professionals (a nurse & a physio) using drawing in their PHDs – as a critical tool too, not just a “wellbeing” tool*
There was a particularly interesting talk from an educator about drawings role in primary education, and how a lack of teachers understanding of drawing and time to do it/teach it (all documented in Ofsted reviews every 3 years) is affecting how people later on in life construct and evaluate knowledge. This then, of course, systemically affects every area we work in – from government policies, to leadership, to how things are designed.
They also showed how drawing also helps bilingual kids learn english. So drawing can help bridge across two different languages, two different paradigms. Enhance collaboration and share practices!
But the knowledge thing got me thinking about the healthcare system.
I’ve been trying to make things to help showcase people’s work within radiotherapy & beyond and I’ve been *secretly* developing a framework/workshops to teach healthcare students (maybe even staff) to be and think creatively.
The workshops are designed to be facilitate hands-on activities and discussion designed to build 4 essential creative muscles:
- Seeing connections between disparate concepts
- Developing an openness to new ideas
- Building resilience through experimentation
- Authentic reflection
These 4 things goes beyond what most people think of when we say creativity (no, it’s not just drawing, and it’s not just being “different”). In business, the creative mindset is highly sought-after because in this time of incredible uncertainty and rapid change, we need agile thinkers who can recognize patterns and interesting adjacencies, who naturally come up with person centred solutions not rigid-1-fits all master plans, and who are comfortable conducting rapid experiments to learn quickly. But it’s not as much appreciated in healthcare, despite needing the same kind of things as described above.
But alas, both healthcare and creativity is complicated.
For years, researchers have studied the “bias against creativity” in the workplace. University of Pennsylvania researchers coined this phrase for the tendency of creative ideas – and the people who espouse them – to be systematically diminished, disparaged, and discredited. This is interesting stuff. I’ve personally experienced it at school, across many places I’ve worked, including within the healthcare system too.
In recent work from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, economists took a novel approach to innovation research by matching tax data to patent grants and applications for almost two decades in the US. They found that children of parents in the top 1% of the income distribution were “ten times more likely to become inventors than those in the bottom 50%.” This is significant, but perhaps not that surprising. The fact that you’re more likely to be successful if your parents have money isn’t the classical narrative of the American dream, but we know it’s true. This data is reproduced across the UK too.
The real surprise in the research was that invention was not correlated with creative ability. Instead, the degree of successful invention was more closely tied to environmental factors shaped by race, class and gender. The conditions children were exposed to at a young age in their neighborhoods and schools were the dominant factor in predicting future success in innovation. In other words, if children didn’t see members of their family or community engaging in non-traditional, innovative pursuits, the financial barriers related to access to opportunity were virtually impossible to beat. It didn’t matter how naturally talented someone was if they had nothing to model.
This makes me think back to the healthcare system and the transformational leadership role and HCP ability to enact change – whatever band/level/experience they have.
“Creativity” may not be the magic bullet – but creative people are. We know that intentionally or not, we are teaching the next generation how to be good foot soldiers, but not independent thinkers. More confoundingly, we know that the things we design (whether policies, products, systems, services, pathways, leaflets, etc) we will use in the future to communicate and convene, work and drive and govern will be built by a cosseted minority who have great access, but may not have the greatest ideas. And even if they do, they will not represent the diversity that they could have.
The experience of engaging in the creative process is profoundly transformative for people, especially young people. Moreover, it’s something where each of us can have outsized impact, just by simply being present.
So how do we do this?
First step: embed it back into education and learning.
Organization design – the attempt to structure systems to produce the outcomes we want – has been an established field for decades and healthcare is an amazing example of this. But here’s the thing – if you step back a bit, putting the two words “organization” and “design” next to each other is actually quite contradictory — the historical rigidity of a typical organization, next to the inherent complexity of the humans in that system, combined with the fluidity of design.
The healthcare paradigm is a tricky thing to navigate. It’s so ensteeped and rigid in empirical data and conservative methods that it’s hard to move things. Each coupling reveals a tension between chaos and structure; linearity and the non-linear; closed and open systems. Teaching people to be flexible and open – and fun – will show them their potential and feel more confident is being more critical and open about their world and collaboration around them.
Step 2: We need to Challenge the world around us.
At the 99U Conference, Liz Jackson, founder of the Inclusive Fashion + Design Collective said: “You never see a person on a cycling sign. You see one on a wheelchair sign. You’re saying you can’t use that object unless you are that person,” as she strode the stage with the aid of a cane. “We are disabled not by our bodies but by the world around us. It is a social construct. Disability is nothing more than a brand, the world’s ugliest brand.”
The stuff we ignore, or don’t try and change, creates our world – makes it harder for us to do our jobs, our lives and our patients lives. So by giving people the tools to critically think, to be open, to try stuff, we can literally make a difference. Equally, to repress what makes us unique is to artificially constrain all the potential we have to offer.
Step 3: Learning different ways of thinking to see from different perspectives
This is where a creative education works. Sometimes we all need to step back—be an artist or a healthcare manager— to find the most appropriate methods or solutions for the problems. You don’t have to do everything yourself, and it doesn’t always have to be a questionnaire or RCT. Equally, we need to increase awareness of our biases (which we have MANY in healthcare) and begin to advocate for change, Norregaard recommends creating a space with your team where it’s okay to talk through our biases.
Step 4: Believe in the learning loop.
We teach reflection well in healthcare, but I’d argue not in a way that’s super conducive to working life and transformation. We know that hospital Trusts that are transparent and have an open culture to mistakes, make less big mistakes overall, and have higher quality care outcomes. This isn’t by mistake. Reflecting upon what you do, enables you to work out where things can be better. But the trick is about making reflection natural, critical, authentic – actually empowering and enjoyable and not like a chore, it’s tick box excerise for just your license. Creative thinking does this.
However, even with all of this – we know culture doesn’t change over night and there will always be people high-up that can not see the benefit in such things. Expect anything worthwhile to take a lot of time, but in the meantime – the artist in me has taught me that if you don’t or can’t get a seat at the table – just bring a folding chair.
Having ideals is like having a compass that always points to your heart instead of your brain. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. Likewise, if anybody wants to be about change, they need to create.
(*side note: I believe the arts are incredibly important in theraputics however that’s a whole different debate).