Why is creative leadership in the NHS important?

In May 2010, computing giant IBM conducted a survey involving more than 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries and 33 industries (directly creative and otherwise) with a goal of finding out what was important to the figureheads of these companies and what they saw as key to success in a volatile, rapidly evolving, and increasingly complex global business environment.

Surprisingly to some, the survey found that “more than rigour, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity” to stand out to consumer audiences above their competition.

In this age, stale operational practices can mean the balance between profit and loss, success and failure… but ultimately you only have to read the headlines to see that a dated approach to healthcare practice can result in the ultimate loss; one of life. The scathing report that arose from 31 months of public enquiry into the Mid Staffordshire scandal included 290 recommendations, intended to re-establish patient’s interest as a top priority for the trust. The bottom-line is ensuring that what David Cameron refers to as “the systemic failure” of care provision cannot to go unchecked on a day-to-day basis.

The public often direct blame at the caregivers in this type of media frenzy, but it has emerged that the weight of blame rests much more upon the shoulders of “leaders and regulators” rather than frontline staff. In a reforming NHS, innovation is needed. But why has creative strategising seemingly been side-lined? Is it because people fear change?

Back in 2011, Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller and colleagues from Cornell University, Pennsylvania, wrote a research paper entitled “Recognizing Creative Leadership…” which investigated how creative people were viewed by their peers.

Troublingly, individuals who expressed more creative strategies were viewed as having less, not more, leadership potential. The result puts people who think outside of the box at a disadvantage for climbing the ranks in a firm; and this fosters a lack of corporate innovation overall.

However, social evolution has been happening in healthcare. For example, NHS Hampshire spawned NHS Creative, which pre-empted unnecessary use of the trust by educating the public on how to minimise the likelihood of contracting swine flu, during the media frenzy. NHS Rotherham has CMS (Creative Media Services), which provides new media solutions to breed engagement between the trust and the public. And since the Staffordshire scandal, as a whole, the NHS is desperately trying to create a new innovative strategy for nurses, midwives, and caregivers.

The one stereotype in healthcare that needs to be dissolved (both inside and outside of the NHS) is that people creative enough to push for change and suggest new approaches to corporate problem solving aren’t fit to do so. Innovators can still see the value of market research, and still crunch the tough numbers; they just find new ways to apply them!

While many trusts such as NHS Hampshire and NHS Rotherham are leaps and bounds above the rest in their vision, the slimming of budgets raises concerns that there could be less focus on creativity. So, if you work within, or work to service the NHS, uncertainty and change is coming – but I’d like to call it innovation.

Alex Leyton, design lead

What do health tech leaders want from the general election campaign?
Secrets from the algorithm: insights from Google’s Search Content Warehouse API leak
What will the general election mean for the NHS and health tech?
Back to (business school) basics
NHS finances: cuts get real