Good Ideas Can Come from Anywhere: Advice for Medical Leaders

“An idea that can change the course of the company can come from anywhere.”

This is the advice Jack Dorsey gave at TechCrunch Disrupt. @Jack is the co-founder of Twitter and the mobile payment startup, Square, that allows anyone, anywhere, to accept credit cards via a small reader that attaches to a smartphone or iPad.

I encourage you to watch the 12-minute video of Jack’s keynote that puts a twist on the notion of a “founder” and the pivotal idea. The key to innovation, he says, is to be open to new ideas no matter where they come from.


Medical Leaders in an Idea Economy

Some of the biggest barriers in health innovation are hierarchical mindsets. In an idea economy, medical leaders cannot be arrogant. In today’s social networked world, ideas can come from anywhere, but some fail to see the value.

Dr. Ronan Kavanagh expresses his disappointment with colleagues who ask, “Are you still wasting your time on Twitter?” According to Dr. Kavanagh:

“Engaging in health-related activities on social media channels is the most important thing I have done for my medical life since completing my specialist training. It has renewed my fascination for healthcare in a way I haven’t felt since I was a medical student and doing so, has undoubtedly quelled a mid-life ennui with my career. It has transformed the way I learn (where I had all but stopped learning) and introduced me to new and interesting friends.”

Dr. Kavanagh reminded me of my presentation for the Ideagoras healthcare innovation conference in Madrid two years ago. Innovators are learners, not experts.

“Success no longer comes from possessing knowledge; instead, you have to participate in creating a flow of knowledge.” -Walter Isaacson, The Aspen Institute.


The social networked world has given the individual an unprecedented ability to collaborate on ideas with people all over the world. I find some doctors on Twitter will only engage with other doctors. I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this tweet from this future doctor and medical student, Danielle Jones:

Jones explains, “I follow patients on Twitter. Not my patients, but patients who share their stories. I follow patients who explain how their doctors have affected their mental and physical health – how their physicians have failed them or fought for them and how it made them feel.”

Weak Ties Lead to Serendipity and New Ideas

Dr. AnneMarie Cunningham recently asked, “Are diverse networks rather than communities at the heart of learning on Twitter?” I am happy to see people in healthcare exploring these concepts. You need diversity for serendipity. Serendipity leads to new ideas and is shaped through “weak ties.” Weak ties are relationships you have with people that bridge different groups outside your domain expertise. Weak ties provide the bridges for innovation.

Connect with the Connectors

Colleen Young, the founder of #hcsmca and Community Manager for Virtual Hospice, just won the JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research) award at the Medicine 2.0 Conference at Harvard for her presentation on building online health communities.

Not only was she thrilled, but Colleen said she felt she “had crossed a sound barrier.” Colleen may not be one of the highly credentialed academics from a university like Harvard, but she has been in the trenches, a pioneer working at the practice of being an online “connector” in healthcare. She describes being a “conduit through which ideas flow.” Now medical leaders are adopting and quoting these community practices in their presentations, and the work will be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Connectors work hard to find the patterns and cross the bridges that open the door for innovation to happen. They also can’t help themselves when they see a connection. They have to share. They are people like Colleen Young,  Valentina Jaramillo and Lisa Fields making connections in the global health conversation. These connectors are building communities, cross-pollinating and expanding networks.

Although connectors do not connect for reward or reciprocity, it is disappointing when a connector shares an idea, answers a question or makes a connection, and does not get a reply or a “thank you.” Connectors need to be supported for networks to grow and knowledge to flow. The real experts know the value of this work.

Learning from Networks

Network experts like Harold Jache say changing practices and developing a new sharing culture take a lot of time and effort. June Holley has written a handbook explaining how network weaving works. To start, you need to:

  • put your ego in check,
  • be a learner, not an expert,
  • be willing to engage over ideas, and
  • connect people.

When I contacted Colleen Young to interview her for this post, she seemed surprised, “Incredible, I was just thinking about you and the post you wrote from our early days on Twitter. I often quote one line in particular – ‘The value of an idea is greater than a title.’”

Now, that’s serendipity! ♦

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HealthIsCool is a writer and trends analyst. She writes about health innovation, wearable tech, the Internet of Things (IoT), new health technologies, and future trends. Her latest trends research includes: The Rise of Wearable Technology and Google's Ambitions in Healthcare. Follow on Twitter at @HealthIsCool.

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  • Danielle Jones

    Thanks so much for the shoutout in this article! Appreciate your kind words.

  • Jon Mertz

    Love your approach and thoughts around your quote: “I follow patients on Twitter.
    Not my patients, but patients who share their stories. I follow
    patients who explain how their doctors have affected their mental and
    physical health – how their physicians have failed them or fought for
    them and how it made them feel.”

    A powerful approach to learn….

    Thank you!

  • Colleen Young

    Serendipitous indeed. Thank you for bringing this article together and sharing my story in it.

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