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Design thinking helps Innovative Health Care Leader program participants tackle tough challenges

Professors Abraham Verghese, PhD, and Sarah Soule, PhD, will lead this spring's Innovative Health Care Leader: From DesignThinking to Personal Leadership program.

In 2015, Stanford’s School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Business (GSB) formed an academic partnership to launch a one-week residential program for health care executives called "The Innovative Health Care Leader: From Design Thinking to Personal Leadership."

Physician-author Abraham Verghese, MD, and Sarah Soule, PhD, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the GSB, directed the course and helped executives learn how to apply the framework of design thinking to some of the toughest challenges in health care, such as balancing the need for big data and cutting-edge research with caring for and connecting to your patients, and recognizing the aspects of your workplace that prevent innovation from happening.

The course was wildly popular with more interested applicants than available seats both years the program was offered. “I think we are really hitting a need in the market,” Soule said. Part of the program's appeal, she explained, is its use of design thinking, which is a repeatable, problem solving technique that encourages you to get creative, helping you generate many innovative solutions to your most vexing problems.

Stanford’s David Kelley was among the first to apply design thinking to problems related to product design and business in the 1980s. Since then, design thinking has also been used in the field of medicine, but mainly to improve medical devices and habits related to health, Soule told me. Using a design thinking lens to identify ways leaders can improve health care and the management of health organizations is relatively new, Soule said, and it’s one of the reasons why the Innovative Health Care Leader program is resonating with so many people.

In the course, Soule presents several examples of how design thinking is applied to organizational problems. One such example is the case study of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California. Here, Soule explained, "design thinking improved customer service and also ended up improving the organizational culture of the unit implementing it."

This year, Soule and Verghese expanded the program's curriculum to include several new sessions that address themes such as crisis management, big data and AI, using storytelling to communicate ideas, and mindfulness for health care leaders.

"Mindfulness encourages us as leaders step back and slow ourselves down, so that we can be more self-aware as leaders and be better at understanding the perspective of others," Soule said. "Because mindfulness makes us better at understanding others, it is core to design thinking."

People who are interested in applying for the program, which begins May 13, can submit their applications through April 2.

Photo by El Fafa

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