Unlocking creativity to bring innovation to health – a conversation with human centered design expert Sharon Kim

September 19, 2019

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Dr. Sharon Kim

From innovators to fine artists, or famous visionaries like Steve Jobs and Oprah, highly creative individuals have always stoked the curiosity of Dr. Sharon Kim and led her to question just why we find generating creative ideas so challenging.

Kim is the current Director of Innovation & Human-Centered Design at the Carey Business School at John Hopkins University. Her background in organizational behaviour led her to study not only the psychology of work but also the psychology of creativity.

“I’m interested in the social psychological factors that facilitate or impede creativity in working people,” says Kim. “In my research I’m often asking the question ‘how can we help people maximize their abilities to create?’”

On October 21, Kim will be addressing a crowd of IHPME alumni, students and faculty at our annual Moonshot celebration, and IHPME communications coordinator Rebecca Biason asked Kim to share some of her thoughts on what human centered design is, and how it can benefit professionals from across the various disciplines in healthcare.

What is human centered design, and how did you find your way into this emerging field?

It might surprise most people, but I would describe human centered design as a creative problem-solving approach. At its core, this approach emphasizes empathy and perspective taking as the primary way of engaging in the problem-solving process.

When I started in my first faculty position I needed something to teach that was directly related to my research. Students were enjoying my seminar — a review of the greatest hits of the psychology of creativity research, but I sensed that they didn’t just want to consume the research, they also wanted to be creative.

Design thinking was a means of practically applying the research that I had been conducting and reading for years, and way for the students to be hands on in their own learning. I was transcending my original identity as a researcher and finding a way to connect with other communities and practitioners in design and people in health care and industry that was producing creative outcomes.

For those in the health care sector, why is human centered design an important consideration when it comes to innovation?

I think there are a lot of ways to answer this question. Health care as a practice and an industry is experiencing a lot of change at the moment. There is a higher level of expectations among patients, and there are empathy gaps in health care that though once accepted are now no longer acceptable.

Organizations are scrambling to find ways to overcome these gaps, and to create a patient experience that is positive while also providing excellent healthcare.

One of the barriers I see a lot in my consulting work is that people often already consider themselves to be human centered just by virtue of being in the healthcare field. There is an assumption that human centeredness as a value is already sufficiently upheld.

But, in my opinion, human centeredness shouldn’t have a ceiling to it. You can’t be too human centered. And, often this mindset, coupled with a fear of change, though obviously this isn’t limited to health care, often hinders the ability of people to pursue new ways of problem solving. It can be intimidating.

Are there any tips you might have for health professionals and the IHPME community who might want to change their thinking and unlock their creativity?

Number one, don’t be afraid to expand your boundaries and be transdisciplinary. Boundary spanning is almost taboo in a lot of industries where thinking is very siloed. What if that psychologist reached out to the engineer and worked together to create a mental wellness app? Encouraging boundary spanning and the creation of teams can really maximize the creativity of your ideas and solutions.

Number two, get out there and speak to your patients, users, and beneficiaries. Regular and established connections and lines of communication with the people you serve is extremely important. That is one of the important tenets of human centered design.

Number three, pilot more often and early. I’ve noticed in healthcare that when people refer to a pilot project, they are really referring to a dress rehearsal for a thing that is already going to happen. Consider pilot testing in a way that truly leaves the door open for improvement. If you pilot early and often, you have a chance to work through a real rough draft and leave yourself open to change, which is invaluable.

Number four, be comfortable with small ‘f’ failures.  When you pilot something early, it is likely to be imperfect and will require revisions, but most people who engage in this type of approach to innovation see how valuable that small f failure is in producing a high-quality outcome.

 

To hear more from Dr. Sharon Kim on designing human centered health care, join us on October 21 at IHPME Moonshot. Tickets on sale now: https://ihpme.utoronto.ca/events/moonshot-2019/