I recently led a full day innovation program for leaders at the Mayo Clinic. I had a significant moment on the flight from Atlanta, GA to Rochester, MN that reminded me how important creativity and innovation is in health care.

I was sitting in the gate area and heard the Delta staff announce that it was time to board. At that moment, I realized I needed to use the restroom, but as I looked down the terminal I couldn’t see a bathroom. They were now calling my boarding group. It was a small plane and boarding would be quick so I decided to just get on and use the bathroom on the plane (yes, I was that person). My seat was in Row 1 and as luck would have it, the only bathroom was in the very back. There were only a few people on the plane and as I walked down the aisle I was blocked by an elderly couple who were leaning over their seat and rummaging with their things. I couldn’t see what they were doing.

After a minute or so, I said, “is there anything I can help you with?” The woman barked an order at the man (this is how I knew they were married). Then, she calmly turned to me and politely said, “I’m sorry. We will be just another minute.”

At that moment, I saw in her seat a box with a brown neoprene case and the clear tubing running up to her face. They had been trying to untangle her oxygen tank. I wanted to send her all the empathy and calming vibes I could. I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “There’s no rush. Take your time.”

A few minutes later they were settled and I continued down the aisle. When I came out of the bathroom the small plane was nearly full. The aisle was filled with people and I waited in the back for everyone to sit down. As I watched passengers board I saw several more oxygen tanks being carried down the aisle. There were probably more medical devices on this flight than any I’d ever been on! Most likely, at least half these passengers were flying across the country seeking answers from the Mayo Clinic.

I eventually returned to my seat and felt the significance of my upcoming work with Mayo. To be honest, I had been quite nervous about teaching leaders at the Mayo Clinic about Deliberate Creativity. I mean, it’s the Mayo Clinic, the best hospital in the world! I had definitely felt moments of the Imposter Syndrome in the weeks leading up to the program. I wanted to do a really good job. I wanted to be good. I wanted to impress them. But, then sitting on the plane I felt a surprising calmness come over me and so much gratitude. I thought about the couple I waited for in the aisle, the woman in the gate area talking on her phone about her recent cancer diagnosis, and the young woman who had a 30 second seizure before we boarded. Afterwards, she laughed it off and said, “well I’m good now. That’s my one for the day.”

This wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about me being good or impressing anyone. This wasn’t even about the 20 leaders who were going to spend a full day learning about creativity and innovation. This was about all the people on Delta Flight 5372 with me. This was about the 1.3 million people Mayo would serve this year. This was about the seven billion people on our planet who might benefit from a new procedure or practice invented at Mayo.

Innovation is never about us. It’s about serving others. It’s about changing lives and doing good in the world. That is why innovation in health care is critical.

To be innovative you must be deliberate about developing new ideas, fostering creativity, and focusing on collaboration. Charles and William Mayo knew this well and consequently they built the best hospital in the world.

Quote from Charles Mayo: "If we excel at anything, it is our capacity for translating idealism into action."


Do you work in health care? What might you do to help your organization better serve the people in your care? Do you need new approaches or techniques, new processes or procedures? If I can help in any way, please let me know.