13 March 2020

QI Essentials: Opportunity in adversity

Moments of crisis and adversity have given rise to innovation and creativity at so many times in history and for so many organisations.

Serious creativity, as Edward de Bono described it. De Bono is a physician and psychologist who originated the term ‘lateral thinking’. De Bono has developed many of the provocation techniques designed to help us move from passive judgement and decision-making, which is the way our brains usually process information and make decisions, to active creativity enabling us to think differently about a particular context. There are many potential ways to introduce provocation to our thought pattern, some of which we are working through now as we try to prepare and manage the coronavirus pandemic.

How would we support people with chronic, complex needs without being able to travel? How could we run a service without actually physically being together? How can we maintain quality of service with only half the current levels of staffing? All of these questions provoke us to think differently about what really adds value, and what we can do differently. Tough questions, particularly when the scenarios are becoming real, rather than imagined. But it also enables us to confront opportunities that we’ve always been aware of, but possibly haven’t quite had the will to tackle.

So, as we are forced to challenge our normal patterns of work and behavior, to meet the threat of the global pandemic, let’s try to seize the opportunity in this adversity to innovate and design a better system for tomorrow. As we do this, there will be merit in holding onto what we know and practice in our daily application of improvement, in creating cultures of experimentation in our teams and organisations. Here’s a few things that might be helpful for us all:

  • Stay curious. It’s too easy, with the need for swift decisions and managing the here-and-now, to lose our curiosity. Try to hold onto regular time to reflect. Notice what’s happening, and ask questions so that we can capture our learning and build theories.


  • Test. There’s almost always value in testing before implementing, even when we think we have the perfect plan that will solve the problem. Stay true to the principles of good experimentation – take a moment to be clear what we’re trying to learn from the test, describe our theory behind the change we’re testing and what we predict will happen, prescribe the start and end of the test and who needs to do what to make it happen, and then set aside time to regroup and reflect on what we learnt from the test. Use this to inform your next steps – either to adapt the idea, or if you’re ready, to implement.


  • Framing. For leaders especially, helping frame the context in which we’re experimenting is critical. If we support the view that we’re just putting in place temporary measures to meet the current crisis, and that we’ll go back to the status quo afterwards, we’re missing a massive opportunity to learn. Instead, let’s frame this as an opportunity for us to really think about how to best serve the need, and what we can do differently to maximise our effectiveness and efficiency, with the aim of holding onto the things that work for the longer term.


  • Build a rhythm. As with improvement, having a regular rhythm helps set the pace. With more and more of us working apart from each other, find ways to connect and be together, replicating the aspects of co-location that add so much value to team working. This is likely to need some testing and adapting, but I’m pretty sure the rhythm of connecting will be much, much more frequent than the previous – with shorter, but more frequent and virtual connection than our usual rhythm of weekly meetings.


Find all of Amar’s blogs here >>

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