Groupthink: A danger to healthcare innovation
Monday, October 21, 2019
In the healthcare universe, we follow orders and policies and procedures because that is part and parcel of our clinical world’s rules.
However, doing what you’re told can come at a price if you violate your own moral code and personal values or the orders have potential to cause harm to a patient. It can also feel like the antithesis of evidence-based practice when you’re told to do something a certain way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
“Groupthink” is a term apparently first used by George Orwell in his seminal novel “1984,” and it describes a group of people adhering to an idea as an abdication of personal responsibility or agency.
You could say that when many Germans accepted Adolf Hitler’s megalomaniacal views, they were participating in perhaps the most dangerous episode of groupthink of the 20th century, even if they simply turned a blind eye. There’s no comparison of healthcare in 2019 with the days of 1939, but we still need to guard against the lack of critical thinking in our midst.
As healthcare becomes more complex and the 21st century offers the potential for powerful innovation, we need open-minded and intellectually curious individuals who can lead us into the future without groupthink holding us back.
From artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to new treatment protocols and novel medical techniques, change is the only constant. Holding tight to the past can seem foolhardy and narrow-minded when we know that positive change is just around the corner.
With increasing complexity comes the need for creative solutions. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a dangerous precedent to follow, yet many healthcare workers readily accept this excuse as a reason to not explore alternative approaches to vexing problems.
Intrapreneurship: A Remedy for Groupthink
Intrapreneurs practice the opposite of groupthink. These individuals are employees who go above and beyond by taking ownership of their work and keeping an eye out for innovative ways to make even incremental improvements. When groupthink rears its ugly head, it is often intrapreneurs who come up with novel solutions that no one else may have considered.
Healthcare leaders can nurture intrapreneurship by listening to staff, encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, and otherwise creating a friendly, creative environment where all opinions matter. Common intrapreneur qualities include:
- Creative thinking
- The ability to think beyond the problem
- Unwillingness to go along with the crowd just because it’s easier
- Ability to work autonomously
- Confidence without arrogance
Using this list, one can easily extrapolate what the opposite of an intrapreneur would be.
Those more close-minded individuals on staff should not have the same influence and power as forward-thinking intrapreneurial team members, yet in some organizations the intrapreneurs struggle to be heard and the naysayers rule the day. The prudent healthcare leader is aware of such dynamics and actively seeks to change them.
Stamping Out Groupthink
The first step in stamping out groupthink is seeing it for what it is and acknowledging its presence. If you happen to be a healthcare leader, you can walk the talk of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking by embodying those characteristics yourself.
If you’re a staff member without a leadership position, you can increase your intrapreneurial influence within the organization by finding your allies at work and collaborating on developing solutions to ongoing problems.
If the person or people you report to are as guilty as groupthink as the rest, you may have an uphill battle; in fact, you may very well need to seek a position in an organization that will show appreciation for your innovative spirit.
Groupthink isn’t always easy to overcome, but it can be resisted when the will to change is strong. The abdication of one’s personal agency to a group can be dangerous, especially when that group focuses on the path of least resistance rather than the path to true innovation.
If you are an intrapreneur with a gift for diplomacy and bringing others to the table, use your influence to stamp out groupthink and instigate an innovation revolution. And if you’re a leader in the healthcare space, fighting against groupthink and advocating for innovation and forward thinking should be your true north star.
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