Leading Creatively

In light of NCHL’s support of the upcoming TEDxRushU event, entitled “Seizing a Day,” I’d like to highlight a recent video featured on the TED website.  At first glance, John Madea’s talk, “How art, technology, and design inform creative leaders” (watch below), may seem like another Apple genius discussing the pivotal intersection between artistic creativity and technological advancement.  But, in listening to John, one begins to discover a facet of leadership often described as lacking in today’s healthcare industry:  creativity.

How can creativity help leadership?  Consider John’s perspective on the world of art. Art is about asking questions that either may not have an easy answer or may not be answerable at all. So, how is creativity applicable to leaders in the healthcare field? In many cases, when healthcare leaders have a question, they commission studies, forums, and presentations until the absolute right or wrong answer has made it all the way up the chain of command, past researchers and administrators until finally landing in front of the CEO. Isn’t that an inefficient way to approach leadership in healthcare, where everything is always changing?

This path may not yield the level of transformational change is needed. John elaborates: “A regular leader loves to avoid mistakes; someone who is creative actually loves to learn from mistakes.” A growing amount of research suggests, like John does, that a leader must be at the center of a heterarchy, rather than the top of a hierarchy in healthcare to embrace creativity. The leader is not infallible, but at the very center of a fluid organization valuing concentric collaboration (Roberts, 2011). The leader adapts with the organization.

Artistic intersection is no longer just between technology and design, but human resources and information services. Or between clinical therapy and finance. Creative leaders are constantly searching for connections between apparently disparate, unrelated parts of the organization. By the end of Madea’s talk (around 14:50 in the video), one can see how this theory comes to life.

At the recent Business Innovation Factory Summit, Mike Harsh of GE Healthcare stated that “innovation is at the intersection of disciplines” (Harney). And that is exactly the point. Leaders must be able to see what everyone in their organizations already knows:  that work in healthcare is not just what is done in the executive suite or in radiology or in accounts payable, but what is done through collaboration, networking, and sharing.

Are leaders in healthcare working too much on a hierarchy? How would a heterarchy structure be better for healthcare? Let us know what you think.


Harney, John O. “John O. Harney: Great stories at Business Innovation Factory summit.” Providence Journal: The New England Blog. 13 October, 2012. The Providence Journal Co., 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI.

Roberts, Cynthia and David Coghlan. 2011. “Concentric collaboration: a model of leadership development for healthcare organizations.” Action Learning: Research and Practice. 8:231-252.

Video URL: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAuDCOl9qrk

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Blog of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership

Fieldnotes on Leadership in Health and Healthcare

Fieldnotes on Leadership in Health and Healthcare

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Fieldnotes on Leadership in Health and Healthcare

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