Why Healthcare Leaders Must Take Risks and Not Have Regrets

Oct. 19, 2020
It’s no surprise that the culture for healthcare is one that is averse to taking risk, but we need innovation to transform and improve patient care

In healthcare, physicians are trained to follow protocols, use evidence-based medicine, standardize processes and eliminate variation.  Any variation in care delivery that results in a bad outcome increases the risk of malpractice litigation.  New products that are introduced must be approved by the FDA and new medications must go through clinical trials and be closely monitored before being accepted for general use.

Over the past 20 years, administrators have instituted lean and six-sigma to eliminate waste, improve processes and reduce costs. These efforts have resulted in incremental improvements.  The margins for hospitals are very slim so these tactics have been necessary to remain profitable. 

Healthcare culture is risk averse:

It’s no surprise that the culture for healthcare is one that is averse to taking risk.  It only makes sense when you are dealing with patients’ lives. Historically, there have been no outlets for physicians, clinicians and employees to bring forth their ideas on how to improve care delivery.  Today, we need innovation to transform and improve patient care and move beyond the incremental improvements of the past.

Outlet for caregivers:

In 2013, we formed the Innovation Institute (a for-profit LLC owned by non-profit health systems) to provide an outlet for caregivers to bring forth their ideas.  We evaluate the ideas, protect them, develop prototypes, and determine the best way to commercialize and take the ideas to market.  The Innovation Institute engages the workforce and attempts to create a culture of innovation.  Everyone wants to improve healthcare and the Innovation Institute provides that outlet in a safe environment.  Physicians, nurses, and caregivers can see a problem and bring their idea for solving it to the Innovation Institute where we work with them to take it to market.  I spent 25 years in healthcare operations and often had physicians bring me ideas for a new product that could save lives or reduce costs, but I had no place to direct the physician. We had no resources and, because of compliance issues, we could not invest or support the physicians with their ideas. Today at the Innovation Institute, we encourage caregivers to bring their ideas forward and take the risk of sharing it.  It could result in a license agreement, a new product, or even a new company.

Successful people take risks:

When you ask people at the end of their careers what they regret the most, they say they should have taken more risks. 

Most people in the world today are risk averse.  Healthcare is not the only environment that is risk averse.  If you are comfortable taking risks on a regular basis, you’re in the minority.  Most people desire the comfort and stability of the known, rather than the uncertainty of the unknown.  This is primarily because, for most people, the fear of failure is greater than the perceived potential benefits that could come from taking risks.  It was Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) who said, “the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

The man in the arena - take risks and overcome failure:

If you take risks, in the long run you will be happier because you will never have to look back and say, “If only… If only I had taken a chance.  If only I had made the leap.  If only I had listened to that voice inside and pursued my idea.”

Theodore Roosevelt once gave a famous speech in France called the “Man in the Arena.” It refers to the credit belonging to the man in the arena, who having been marred by dust, sweat, and blood, deserved the credit.  The man in the arena is better than the critic who never participated for fear of failure, because whether the man in the arena is victorious or fails, his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat because he at least took the chance to be in the fight.

Characteristics of successful people who take risks:

When you look at the journey of successful people, you see some common traits and characteristics. These are some of my observations:

A passion for success

Business people, leaders, athletes, authors, entrepreneurs and others who have experienced success have a passion for what they are doing.  They are not driven by financial goals necessarily, but by a desire to succeed in solving a problem, building a company, achieving a goal, or developing a product or an idea.  They set intelligent goals and are relentless about pursuing them. 

An entrepreneurial spirit

These people are not looking for a job from 8 to 5, but are looking to accomplish something important. They want to make a difference and they are hungry.  Often on Shark Tank you will hear the presenter being asked about how much they have invested or if they are doing this full-time.  The Sharks want to know if the presenter is truly an entrepreneur or someone with a hobby.

Not derailed by nay-sayers

There are always critics who will tell you why something won’t work. One characteristic that is prevalent in those who took risks and ultimately succeeded is the fact that they were not derailed or discouraged by the negativity of others.  In almost every instance with the famous people listed below, there were critics who tried to discourage them.  The risk takers did not let this stop them in their pursuit to achieve success.

Not afraid of failure 

People who take risks are not deterred or afraid of failure.  I particularly like the quotes of Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan as it relates to failure.  They actually credit the failure to why they succeeded.  All the individuals listed below failed before ultimately finding success.  If you are afraid to fail, you will never do more than make incremental advances.

Hard working- never give-up attitude

Successful risk takers are extremely driven and hard working. They live, sleep, and dream about their passion.  If they weren’t hard working, they would give up long before achieving success.

Ten famous people who overcame failure:

The following ten people overcame failures before ultimately finding success.  They exemplify the five characteristics discussed above:

1.       Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because the editor felt he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.

2.       Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was too stupid to learn anything.  When developing the light bulb, he failed 10,000 times.  When asked about his failures he replied that he hadn’t failed but learned 10,000 ways that didn’t work.

3.       Abraham Lincoln.  He had multiple failed business attempts before beginning his political career and ascending to one of the Country’s greatest Presidents.

4.       Michael Jordan. He failed to make his high school basketball team.  He went on to win six NBA Championships and five MVP’s and is the greatest player of all time.  He said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost 300 games and missed 26 game winning shots. I have failed over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

5.       Henry Ford. He had two failed automobile businesses before starting the Ford Motor Company.

6.       J.K Rowling.  J.K Rowling was a single mom living off welfare when she began writing the first “Harry Potter” novel.  She became the first billionaire author in 2004.

7.       Albert Einstein. As a child he had speech difficulties.  He didn’t speak until he was 4 and was thought to be handicapped. As a teen he failed in school because he rebelled against a school’s reliance on rote learning and as a young adult, he failed on his first attempt to get into Zurich Polytechnic School but was accepted on his second attempt.

8.       Harland David Sanders.  At age 65, he was bankrupt after his restaurant failed.  He drove his car around trying to get restaurants to use his fried chicken recipe.  He was turned down 1,009 times before a restaurant agreed to use his recipe, which he called Kentucky Fried Chicken.

9.       Charles Schulz.  His high school yearbook staff rejected every cartoon he submitted.  He failed the 8th grade and when he was older his cartoons were submitted to several studios and publishing firms.  All were met with rejection.  He never gave up and went on to develop Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang.

10.   Milton Hershey.  Hershey’s is one of the most recognized names in chocolate. But before founding the company, Milton Hershey was fired from his apprenticeship with a printer. And then he tried to start three different candy companies, all of which failed, before starting the Lancaster Caramel Company and the Hershey Company that made his sweet confection a household name.

Take risks and don’t have regrets:

Grace Bluerock, LCSW, spent six years working in hospice care.  As she sat at the bedsides of dying men and women as they tried to make peace with their time spent on this earth, many shared regrets about their lives. Although each person's life story was unique, certain disappointments were expressed time and time again. One of the nine regrets expressed consistently by hospice patients was that they wished they had taken more risks.  Many felt that a fear of failure caused them to play it too safe. They knew that they could have had richer, more fulfilling lives had they taken some risks and disturbed the status quo.

Keys to success when it comes to taking risks:

Consider making a list of what you want to experience in business or in life. Then develop a plan to accomplish your goals.  Remember the five keys to success.

  1. Find your passion.
  2. Have an entrepreneurial spirit and set intelligent goals.
  3. Don’t let others dissuade you or discourage you.  Ignore the nay-sayers.
  4. It’s ok to fail. When you fail, pick yourself up.  Failure leads to success.
  5. Work hard.  Never give up “Numquam cede,” be relentless and persistent.

Having spent my entire career in healthcare, I have found that even though the industry culture is one that has an aversion for risks, physicians are scientists at heart.  They entered medicine to serve the greater good.  They are constantly searching for ways to improve care delivery and save lives.  We have found a way to engage them with the Innovation Institute.  The Innovation Institute is an incubator where we work with physicians, employees and the general public to take their ideas and see if they can be commercialized.   Our model is a problems-based model.  Physicians bring us a problem state along with their identified solution.  Many times, their solution is not viable, but the problem they have identified leads us to another solution that works.  Albert Einstein once said, “If the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”  If you have an idea or would like more information about the Innovation Institute, please visit our website: https://ii4change.com/

Oh, one last thing… don’t be afraid to take risks… and don’t fear failure.

Joe Randolph is the president and CEO of The Innovation Institute

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