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This Isn’t Rocket Science. In fact, It’s Harder.

Posted By Mark VanderKlipp, EDAC, Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Come on, you guys, this isn’t rocket science.” - said everyone ever

People glibly toss this statement off when they attempt to take the reductionist high ground, to speak of the simplicity of the task before them. They hold out rocket science as a discipline that’s almost impossibly complex, knowable to only a select few.

Rocket scientists have the luxury to focus for a period of time on delivering a payload through the atmosphere and into outer space. But as complicated as this problem may be, it is a definable problem, with physical laws that determine constraints, that has a defined beginning and a definite end.

On the other hand, moving a complex healthcare culture forward is a daily task that requires a broad definition of goals, barriers and opportunities (which vary for each individual over time), with only the murky boundaries of understanding to determine constraints, with no definable beginning and certainly no end. In our realm, individual behavior is situational, truth is subjective and emotion and urgency trump all.

To the extent that there’s an answer for our industry, it’s in defining human-centered processes that honor the lived experience of individuals in the system, and forward their expertise as shared learning occurs. This excellent article by Laura Hoppa lays out a great process for doing so: Activating Strategy through Experience Design.

I serve as a volunteer on a PFAC for Munson Medical Center in my hometown of Traverse City, MI. We recently heard a presentation from the Director of Facilities for a new surgical tower that will completely change the front door of the Medical Center: it moves an existing city street to the north and creates new connections to the building that alter pathways and process significantly.

As we were reviewing the goals for the project that the architect had written, the single word that kept coming back to me was “hygiene.” Mirriam-Webster defines this as “a science of the establishment and maintenance of health, or conditions/practices conducive to health.”

When I think of health in this context, I think of informational health, brought about by consistent informational hygiene.

As Jason Wolf so often says, “we are people serving people” and nowhere is the correct exchange of information more critical than in the world of healthcare. Good informational hygiene does not have an end point - it’s a practice that we must make a part of every day, if we wish to continually maintain and improve the health of our cultures and environments.

Thinking of the major changes about to occur here in Traverse City, our goal will be to maximize the exchange of information in order to meaningfully impact mindsets in ways that improve both staff and patient/family experiences. Here’s how I would define good “informational hygiene”:

  • Increase awareness
    • Lay the groundwork that necessary change is underway, well in advance of any “ask” or intervention
    • Build momentum in clear, consistent communications across media
    • Create avenues for conversation among diverse individuals that help frame the issue

  • Interrupt with novelty
    • Once defined, use metaphor/story to describe aspects of the issue as you see it
    • Create “landmark” informational experiences to establish the issue as one needing resolution
    • Design avenues for conversation to hypothesize potential solutions

  • Convince with facts
    • Cement the challenges with relevant, “sticky” facts
    • Support those with quantifiable information and stories to clarify, add shape to the issue
    • Communicate clearly and often

  • Change long-held assumptions
    • Name them as a way to frame the challenge
    • Acknowledge their value in the past, and the original thinking/necessity that brought them about
    • Contrast those with new information, and illustrate changes that might result with new assumptions

  • Build trust
    • Tell the truth as you see it
    • Be open to receiving critique and having your mind convincingly changed
    • Encourage co-design of solutions with humans on all sides of the experience

Once mindset change has opened the door, we can begin to communicate all the ways in which behaviors can change to support the greater good.

So when you hear someone say ‘Come on you guys, this isn’t rocket science!’, remember that convincingly altering mindsets to change behavior isn’t rocket science; it’s much harder than that. Kudos to all members of this organization, and the entire healthcare system, who bring their best to this challenge every day.

Mark VanderKlipp is an experience and systems designer, working in human-centered graphic design for over 30 years. He helps clients visualize the systems within which they function, empowering staff to deliver an experience that’s clear, relevant and human. He previously spent 24 years with a world-class wayfinding design firm, 13 as its president, where he was the lead strategist for diverse assignments in healthcare, higher education, civic, corporate, trails and tourism throughout North America. Mark is a 1987 graduate of the University of Michigan. In 2012 he earned his evidence-based design certification (EDAC) through the Center for Health Design, and in 2017 became certified in Systems Practice through +Acumen. He is also a founding partner of the customer experience consulting firm Connect_CX.

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