Leadership Lessons From Your Inner Child

MIT Sloan Management Review

When I turned five, I got a new bike. I didn’t know how to ride it, but I took it to a nearby hill anyway, a willing warrior, ready to ride. Was I prepared? Would I be brave enough to overcome the anxiety of facing the unknown? The truth is those questions never occurred to me at the time. Reflecting on this experience decades later, I realized I wasn’t just a willing warrior — I was an ecstatically enthusiastic one. Today, I can’t help but wonder why it seemed so much easier to take on significant new challenges as a five-year-old than it is for me now. As a child, did I have gifts that I somehow lost over the years? Was I foolish then and more responsible now? Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that I’ve been fighting a decades-long battle to not lose many of those gifts that made it relatively easy to learn new things when I was young.

So, let me pose a few questions: What were some of those gifts? Why have I been in danger of losing them? What does this have to do with learning to lead in the digital economy?

Here’s what I remember about myself as a child:

I was bold. I took risks. I knew not getting it perfectly right the first time or two would have short-term consequences, but I didn’t consider that “failing” — it was just a matter of acquiring a skinned knee and a bruise or two. I couldn’t have cared less because I was learning something new and having fun doing it. I learned fast. I found creative ways of falling so as to minimize those skinned knees and bruises. I experimented, used my innate powers of critical thinking, and was resourceful. There were no fancy bicycle helmets when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, but one of my other prized possessions, my replica New York Giants football helmet, served multiple purposes that day. I was flexible and resilient. Maybe it was just being five, but no matter how many times I fell, I got right back up and barreled down that hill again. And suddenly, my confidence grew as my mechanical skills converged in positive ways with my attitude of being unafraid. Finally, and certainly not least important, I was trusting, because my dad was pointing me down that hill and carrying the bike back up “Mount Everest” so as not to exhaust me needlessly. He was there, laughing with me, not at me, giving out tips now and then but letting me go my own way, making the experience enjoyable and memorable.

The Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy: Getting Back to Where We Started

“Noncreative behavior is learned,” said renowned creativity and innovation researcher George Land, Ph.D. In the early 1960s, NASA engaged Dr. Land to develop and conduct assessment tests on creativity, resourcefulness, and innovation in the initial days of the space program. After all, if you are pursuing a moon shot, you better have a team with the most creative minds on the planet while preparing to execute a remarkably bold vision, one without an operating manual to serve as your guide. Dr. Land’s assessment instrument turned out to be very successful and served a critical role in NASA’s selection process for both astronauts and the troubleshooting team on the ground.

The instrument was so effective that Dr. Land believed it held promise for other avenues. He turned his research team’s attention to studying creativity and innovation in children to try to understand if creativity could be taught, and if so, how. His assessment instrument was modified for this new audience, and the findings were stunning. The team first assessed the levels of creativity, curiosity, and innovation in five-year-old children. The result: 98% of those studied scored at the “genius level” against these criteria. The test results were questioned by some creativity researchers because of the extraordinarily high scores, so Dr. Land decided to make the study a longitudinal one, studying those five-year-olds in five-year increments until they reached young adulthood. Using the same instrument on the same study group, the scores moved from 98% at five years old to 30% at 10 years old to 12% at 15 years old to 2% as adults.

So, what started out as a project to determine whether creativity and innovation could be taught turned out to have a completely different outcome. It took Dr. Land 20 years to realize that he had challenged his team to solve the wrong problem! The real problem, he surmised, was less about learning how to be more creative or innovative than it was about learning how to not lose the innate creativity and curiosity that resides within us as children.

Virtually all the executives I’ve interviewed for MIT SMR’s exciting new Big Ideas Initiative, Leading Into the Future, share Dr. Land’s interests in encouraging creativity, curiosity, and innovation. The importance of these early childhood gifts in leadership is one of the central lessons emerging from our early interviews.

Setting the Conditions for Success: RBC’s New Leadership Mantra

“We have to be able to break down the traditional business models that we’ve been operating — better understand how the world around us and our customers are changing — and then rebuild business models and value chains with new paradigms.” This statement was made to me by Dave McKay, President and CEO of RBC, one of the world’s largest financial services companies. Similar to Dr. Land’s reflections, McKay came to believe that over the years, leaders at RBC were too conservative in their goal setting and not acting boldly enough.

“We’re a leading franchise in Canada and now, a leading bank globally. We felt that weight of expectations to be steady. Banking used to have many barriers to entry. It required billions to enter the business. But now, with the onset of digitalization, smaller, newer, more agile players can enter the business and chip away at your value chain and get between you and your customers. You don’t want anybody getting between you and your customers. So, we needed to reimagine ourselves. In the past, we laid out conservative plans and set conservative goals to insure that we wouldn’t fail. Not anymore. Today, our leadership model casts a net for those who act boldly, are innovative and flexible, take risks and have a hunger for learning and speed.”

McKay was clear that RBC was not pursuing innovative and bold thinking just for the sake of behaving that way. To the contrary, he was suggesting that in order to maintain its responsibility to its shareholders, RBC needed to think and behave more creatively because its competitors were offering new and innovative services that made RBC’s services potentially less compelling. As such, McKay was stating that the new accountability for RBC was to be bold, but with an eye that would eventually result in differentiated value for its customers and shareholders.

McKay talked a lot about unlocking the potential that already existed in his organization but had been drummed out of them by working under a mindset that was characterized by a fear of failure. “I firmly believe that today a great leader’s first job is to unlock the potential of people in the organization, and the second job is to walk the talk and act that way day-in and day-out. They must create the conditions for success and then live it.” As a specific example of unlocking people’s potential, McKay told me about RBC’s Amplify Program, a summer internship program in which RBC leaders assign some challenging problems not to its senior leaders or even its high potential talents, but to summer university students. “These students come to Amplify with a clean slate. They bring creative minds with unfiltered thinking to these challenges- some of them musicians, some art students, and some with a love of science. The freshness with which they look at these problems has been eye opening for us all. Their ideas have generated more than ten patents for us this summer and they are inspiring the organization.”

As leaders in today’s world, we need to recall the gifts of our inner child. We must set the conditions for success by creating an organizational mindset that supports experimentation, innovation, critical thinking, resilience, and speed. At the same time, we need to recognize that these activities and capabilities are not ends in themselves. Results matter. Acting boldly while keeping a focus on results is one of the key leadership challenges in a digital era.

How to Start a Telehealth Business

Between the "graying of America" and the seemingly busy schedules of families these days, it's no wonder that the telehealth industry has been growing like never before. More than 20 million Americans received some type of remote medical care in 2017, and that number is projected to keep getting larger, according to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). 

Telehealth as an industry

But if you think telemedicine is something fairly new, you may be surprised to learn that it has been around for more than 40 years, according to the ATA. Because of physician shortages, telemedicine allows improved access to healthcare in distant locations throughout the United States. 

The ATA estimates that there are currently about 200 telemedicine networks operating at the present time. More than half of all the hospitals in the country now use some form of telemedicine services, and even the Veterans Health Administration is using it to reach more than a half a million vets each year. 

At the present time, 34 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth consultations the same as they would cover in-person services. With the latest technology, it only requires that consumers and physicians download a health and wellness app for use on their cell phones and other electronic devices. 

Editor's note: Want to know more about telemedicine software solutions? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you with more information.

Regulatory hurdles

Because of the popularity of the telehealth industry, experts in the medical community all agree that it will continue to grow as more companies are launched. But just how easy is it to open your own telehealth business? Are there lots of rules and restrictions that might make it unappealing? 

According to Elizabeth Westbrook, government relations advisor at the law firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, many of the creative, forward-thinking entrepreneurs who seek to start new tech businesses aren't naturally inclined to consider the regulatory implications of their new venture, especially when it comes to the heavily regulated world of medicine. 

"Healthcare (and by extension, health IT) is regulated, not just by the federal government, but by state governments as well," said Westbrook. "Not only can state laws vary wildly, but many states have licensure laws that actually prohibit or at least hinder healthcare delivery across state lines where clinicians have not attained certain credentials or corporate structures have not been appropriately established. So anyone looking to launch a telehealth business needs to consider the laws of the location(s) in which they will launch and whether their business will be tenable in more than one state." 

Other considerations

Jayme R. Matchinski, an attorney and member of the healthcare industry group at the law firm of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale PC in Chicago, stresses that key considerations and issues should be addressed by any healthcare provider or other entity or individual seeking to start a telehealth business, and include a variety of issues. 

"Given the scope of practice, licensure, state board disciplinary actions and malpractice considerations, healthcare providers should carefully navigate the provision of professional services through telehealth and ensure regulatory compliance to avoid licensure and state board disciplinary actions," Matchinski said. [Looking for telemedicine software? Check out our best picks.] 

"Navigating telehealth requirements for licensing, scope of practice and reimbursement can be challenging for healthcare providers. Evolving technology and healthcare delivery systems will continue to expand and increase the use of telehealth. There are many initiatives underway by CMS, Medicaid and private insurance companies to provide telehealth. And the regulatory landscape regarding telehealth is continuing to change and evolve," said Matchinski. 

You should also understand how to protect the telehealth technology that you put in front of patients, said Heather Alleva, a healthcare attorney also with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney

"Whether you are a developer of a health-related digital platform or a clinician who wants to utilize new technology with your patients, you will need to work with and contract with other parties before patients can interact with the telehealth technology," she said. "Consider how to protect your intellectual property interests and limit liability that might result from technological 'bugs,' including those that might expose patient's health information to unauthorized use, and remember that payments between parties must usually reflect fair market value in the healthcare space," Alleva added. 

Running afoul of healthcare regulations might impact your ability to share your telehealth technology with patients who could benefit from the services, so it is important to understand these regulations and the healthcare space before launching new projects. [Interested in opening your own private medical practice? Check out our advice.] 

If you've already got a plan in place and want to focus on choosing the products and services you'll need to run your business, you can read our medical practice services reviews.

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