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What's New?

December 22, 2008
by Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
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The key to being innovative is creating a culture where the status quo isn't good enough

I have a standing meeting with my boss, Mark Fried, every two weeks. After I walk into his office, close the door and sit down, Mark usually starts with: “So what's new in your world?” While such a question sounds unremarkable, I've realized how it creates a fundamental shift in the way I approach my job.

For most of my working life, I've found the onus for filling the white space between a meeting's open and close to be on the meeting organizer, but Mark's simple question turns this on its head. When we convene, I know it's my responsibility to fill the white space, simply because I have to answer his question. Of course, I could silently stare back at him and see what happens, but in this tough economy, who can take such chances.

Accepting that I must respond with more than, “everything's good,” means I should have some interesting things to say, which, in turn, means I need to actually be doing some interesting things. Thus, our editorial staff is constantly working to come up good answers to his question. Recent results include:

  • Daily news items on the Web

  • Weekly one-on-one CIO interviews

  • A Blogosphere, which now contains over 20 guest blogs

  • A Discussion Board

  • An exclusive LinkedIn “CIO Connection” group with over 220 members

  • Virtual Hospital Tour photo galleries

  • Reader voting for projects like the HCI Tech Trends and Innovator Awards

  • Weekly online polls

  • And, we're currently planning a Jobs Board/Career Center

All these projects have accomplished two things — greatly enhanced our usefulness to you and helped me fill the white space in my meetings with Mark.

What tone have you set for meetings with staff? Constantly asking, “What's new?” creates a far different atmosphere than, “How's everything going?” While it might sound simplistic, I'm talking about cultivating an environment in which doing what's always been done, no matter how efficiently, isn't enough. No one knows better than you, a healthcare CIO, how much success depends on innovation, on what many call creative destruction. But have you created an atmosphere where newness is expected, in fact, required?

It's critical to get staff thinking about newness because the power of the organization comes from tapping, from harnessing the insights, talents and potential of each individual (think of the Borg in Star Trek TNG). From the CEO on down, managers in your organization should stop asking for updates on current processes and start asking for innovation updates. Of course, new projects take time, and no one expects ground-breaking activity every day, but something new should be happening at all times.

As soon as you get people to think about the right things, the battle is largely won. It's amazing the ideas staff can come up with when asked. The change desired often doesn't need to involve bringing in new people, but rather just reorienting existing staff.

Getting staff to think about newness could save your organization. Making it happen starts with asking the right question.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
Healthcare Informatics 2009 January;25(13):8