The Innovative Healthcare Leader: Stanford's Hot New Exec Program

Dr. Sarah Soule, Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Dr. Sarah Soule, Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

One of the most valuable – and fun – learning experiences I’ve had was attending the Executive Program for Social Entrepreneurs at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Led by GSB professor Sarah Soule, it was an intensive week of study with 50 exceptional human beings from all over the world, fusing a traditional business curriculum with instruction in design thinking. I’m still in touch with many of my colleagues from #EPSE2014. (Go, changemakers!)

So, when I saw that Sarah Soule was leading an executive program for health care leaders along with noted physician and celebrated author Abraham Verghese, I was excited. The Innovative Health Care Leader: From Design Thinking to Personal Leadership is an academic partnership between Stanford’s schools of business and medicine. The program is unique in that it leverages design thinking methodology, which helps break down big problems into manageable steps making the whole process less overwhelming – and, frankly, a whole lot more engaging and fun.

As faculty directors, Soule and Verghese attend all sessions, lunches, and dinners as well as teach in the program.  In terms of strengths, Soule says, “Abraham is a world-renowned physician and author, and I have a great depth of experience in designing executive programs, as well as a deep knowledge of strategy and organizational design.” It’s a winning team.

The origin of the program, says Soule, came out of a desire to foster more collaboration across the seven schools of Stanford University, as well as from a general need for many healthcare leaders to have more training in business-related topics and innovation processes. Incorporating a human-centered approach addresses Verghese’s persistent question: “How do you deliver the ‘care’ in caring while still delivering cutting-edge science?”

It’s a question that feels critically urgent today. 

This focus on design thinking/human-centered design as well as the stress on innovation in the field more broadly are key differentiators for the Stanford program vis-à-vis other multi-day executive medical programs at top universities. This will be the program’s second year, and last year’s participants seem convinced. Said one: “This course is really about understanding what elements in your culture or perhaps even in your own personality or in your workplace are actually preventing you from allowing innovation to happen.”

And how does innovation happen? It’s a question with no shortage of experts and opiners.

With the popularity of Lean and other approaches to innovation being applied in healthcare, how does Soule see the role of design thinking playing out? “I am of the mind that these are complimentary approaches, that can be used very effectively together,” she says. She shares this opinion with her colleague, Stefanos Zenios, who sees design thinking as a methodology for identifying the user's need to create hypotheses then get qualitative feedback through prototyping, while Lean can provide a rigorous framework for many of these hyphotheses.

Recently, we heard the comment of one business professor from the East Coast that design thinking is “the assembly line of the 21st century.” It’s a pretty bold statement, and I wondered how Soule would regard the claim.

“I agree with this,” she said. “Design thinking, as you know, is not just about designing products; it is about changing mindsets and developing creative confidence in our people, and changing cultures of teams and organizations.  As well, it is a powerful problem-solving technique that is widely applicable.”

Knowing that, how could you resist the urge to learn more?

But if all that isn’t enticement enough, I have to say that the food served at the Stanford GSB executive program I attended was a pretty memorable perk. And, Soule says it’s even improved since then. The program Chef has made the food healthier, offering all kinds of items for special diets. Plus, participants are offered morning exercise with an instructor and pretty snazzy GSB jackets.

Interested? You still have time to apply. The deadline is Feb. 13.

You can learn more about the program here: The Innovative Healthcare Leader


Read Dr. Sarah Soule's Case Study on using Design Thinking at Huntington Hospital:  

Huntington Hospital: Empowering Staff