write to win

Let’s face it, writing is hell. But that is what makes some of it ‘world leading’

Hint: it may have something to do with music as well.

There is a wonderful scene in the film Amadeus that depicts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dictating, from his death bed, the words and music of his Requiem mass – a piece thought of as a requiem for the composer’s death which is now regarded as one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Mozart dictates to the rival composer Salieri, who in equal measure admires and hates Mozart. A central theme of Peter Schaffer’s original play, which the film is based on, is the originality of genius versus “mediocrities everywhere”.

Building on my recent work on the philosophy and history of writing, I’ve been trying to work out what constitutes “world-leading” writing, and effective writing more generally. Over the past three years I’ve analysed interviews with the world’s greatest writers as well as examined renowned guides to writing styles and standards of language. I’ve also been studying young people’s creativity and writing. And, throughout my work, the composition of music has been compared with the composition of written text.

World-leading is a big claim. Perhaps we would agree, just as the Nobel Prize committee did, that Peter Higgs’s and François Englert’s work in physics on the Higgs boson particle was world-leading. How about Virginia Woolf’s contribution to literature? Or Andrew Wiles’s mathematical proof that solved the 300-year riddle of Fermat’s last theorem?

In addition to the work of people such as Mozart, Higgs/Englert, Woolf and Wiles, a sense of what is “world-leading” is also fundamental to assessing research more generally. For example in the UK’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework exercise, an assessment of research in all the UK’s universities that takes place every few years, 30% of research outputs across all academic disciplines were rated as world-leading. These outputs included musical compositions and performances, artefacts and exhibitions, and, of course, journal articles, chapters and books. Across all these different outputs the most important criterion to demonstrate world-leading research quality was “originality”.

But what is originality? And how do people write something original?

How to be original

With regard to writing, one source of information about originality is in the words of world-leading writers themselves. For the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, writing involved the creation of a whole new thing, a “birth” that – if it succeeded – would be immortal. Hemingway suggested that originality draws from things that already exist but also that the creation must be genuinely new, and even “alive”.

Originality is not just the preserve of fiction writers. The biographer Michael Holroyd said he disliked the “non” in non-fiction, preferring instead the descriptions “re-creative writing” or with an addition: “non-fiction stories”. Holroyd felt that there can be originality in the primary research that underpins an outstanding biography as well as the ways in which the story is ultimately told.

Primary research is also part of the work of novelists. Marilyn Robinson’s first book, Housekeeping, was revered by critics. This success was achieved in part, according to Robinson, through careful scholarship including reading of primary historical sources.

Another source of information about originality can be found in psychological research on creativity. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky saw originality emerging from particular kinds of thinking that combined unknown conditions with experiences recorded in memory. And psychologist Morris Stein’s definition of creativity included the idea that “the creative work is a novel work that is accepted as tenable or useful or satisfying by a group in some point in time”. So a feature of originality, in writing or other creative outputs, is that ultimately it can only be determined through the judgements of others.

A writerly ear

Comparison of musical composition with the composition of words can teach us more about writing. Melodies in music are like themes or lines of argument in writing. And musical metaphors are common in writers’ attempts to explain the more ethereal aspects of creativity. Jack Kerouac spoke of “blowing like the tenor man”, describing the improvisation of the saxophonist when playing jazz music, to elucidate his understanding of the improvisational qualities of fiction writing.

The ears and the mind engage with one another in the composition of music. This is also true of the composition of written text. My hypothesis, inspired by my research, is that the “the writer’s ear” is equally as important as that of the musician.

The writer’s ear explains the ability to “read like a writer”, which involves not only admiring writing, and engaging emotionally, but also perceiving the techniques that writers use. The ear of the writer is instrumental in the initial attention to a wide range of relevant sources for writing: for example the previous research in the field.

This consideration of previous work is part of the writer’s drive for originality – the writer’s ear supports the selection of the original idea for research. The writer’s ear also ultimately attunes the rhythms of the specific written language, in a paper or book, that is also needed to convince people that the output is world leading.

But even those authors with a good ear for writing would never say the process is easy. When American novelist and essayist William Styron was asked if he enjoyed writing, he replied:

I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.

Dominic Wyse, Professor of Education, UCL.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

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Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.