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Innovation versus Insanity

Innovation versus Insanity

In the Back to the Future movie series, George (Marty’s Dad) changes his passive stance to the bully, saves the girl, and in the future, becomes a successful author instead of a loser (Zemeckis, 1989). Do you believe there is moment in time, a decision to be made, which has the power to change your destiny? Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results (Wilczek, 2023). Is this not what is occurring in American healthcare when leaders stifle divergent thinking and thus throttle the very innovation that would save our U.S. healthcare system? I have to ask the question – is the nursing profession, a large and powerful subsystem of the U.S. healthcare system - doing the same?

An aspect of innovation which needs exploration is whether the healthcare system organizational culture is compatible with innovation. A culture of innovation requires tolerance for divergent thinking. Think about your work culture experiences. How many of them have been tolerant of divergent thinking? Hunter (2023), writing for Workzinga on LinkedIn, points out that to create and sustain a culture of innovation, leaders need to plan for that type of culture and take deliberate steps toward it, such as hiring diverse thinkers. In my experience in healthcare systems, regardless of position - including administration - being a divergent thinker was not always being “work smart” and could actually provoke enough discomfort among those in power to result in loss of position. Nurses fear this. From day 1 in nursing education, conformity is the order of the day. Though socialization into the team and hierarchal nature of the nursing profession is important to the role of the nurse and survival in the workplace, the end result is stifling of many of the brilliant minds of nurses and the potential contributions they could make to healthcare innovation.

Can you imagine a future healthcare system that not only tolerates divergent thinking, but embraces divergent thinkers? The key for future change lies in the will and astuteness of nurse leaders to influence acceptance of divergent thinking at the level where policy decisions are made. Nurse leader empowerment – and nurse empowerment en masse - is going to be needed to make this kind of change possible. Matsiukhova (2017) offers four foundational healthcare system practices essential for the type of nurse empowerment I am talking about. All four point to the necessity of nurses taking the lead for their own empowerment. The first practice is for a clear definition of nurse autonomy to be established. Nurse autonomy can be a threatening two-word phrase within many healthcare systems. There is realistic concern with violation of the state Nurse Practice Act. Additionally, in the view of some, nurse empowerment = increased demands from the system’s largest payroll expense. Ensuring a mutual understanding – and status – for nurse autonomy lies within policy. The second practice recommended by Matsiukhova (2017) is continuous nursing practice competency enhancement. This is something nurses must take seriously as a self-empowerment priority. Obtaining higher levels of nurse training and education is included. This practice promotes nurse empowerment within a healthcare system. The third practice is a committee or other system which provides an avenue for nurses at all levels of experience to participate in discussions for policy development. Finally, the fourth practice is establishing an expectation for visible and available nursing leadership – to all staff.

What do you think? Is all of this possible within your lifetime? Will you be a part of bringing about this monumental change, one step at a time? Ottawa University offers the type of nursing education needed to build knowledge and skill in this area….


Hunter, D. (2023). Building a culture of creativity using divergent thinking.

Matsiukhova, M. (2017). Hospital impact: 4 steps to empower nurse leaders who drive better outcomes.

Wilczek, F. (2023). Einstein’s parable of quantum insanity.

Zemeckis, R. (1989). Back to the Future Part II [Film]. Universal Pictures.

Posted: 02/06/2024
Updated: 02/06/2024 by Dr. Ruth L.M. Burkhart, DNP, MA, RN-BC, LPCC
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