Friday, January 17, 2014

Pragmatic Visionary

In a discussion at my office yesterday, someone referred to me as a pragmatic visionary.  That is an interesting compliment, and I spent some time thinking about what I had said that prompted that comment and whether I would think of myself that way.  It is not the first time I have been called a visionary about the business of education and health, so maybe there is something that other people are seeing.  I certainly have never thought of myself as a visionary.  But perhaps that is just being polite and not giving myself too much credit.

In any case, the previous comment about being a visionary (to set the context was with respect to bringing cost-effectiveness analysis to eye care and to nursing.  Was I single handed responsible for it?  No, absolutely not.  But, did my efforts make a difference in bringing this new way of thinking about resource allocation, new techniques, and new language to structure resource allocation efforts in these two areas--yes.  Does that make me a visionary?  I certainly had an idea of why the new methods would be important, whom to reach, and how to communicate them. The last of those may have been the most important--storytelling.   But I'm not at all sure it makes me a visionary.

Yesterday, the conversation was one in which I simply reflected what I thought I heard a colleague saying, acknowledged that it was important, and built on it.  If there is one business skill that I have (and I really never thought of it as a business skill until I found myself in a business school), it is listening, reflecting, and improvising in the reflection.  It is the improvising that I think appealed to my colleague and led him to the visionary comment.  What did it have to do with?  It had to do with thinking about online education and the role of individual courses versus the role of the program as a whole and the role of thinking about the university-wide reputation and context in which it fit.  Most importantly, acknowledging the importance of thinking not just about the quality of each course but the bigger picture and being able to articulate that bigger picture.  Again, I'm not sure that makes me a visionary.

The pragmatic side--I kept referring back to the timeline my boss has set.  Acknowledging that while the "big picture" thinking is great, I also have to be careful to meet deadlines.

The two concepts (being a visionary whether I am one or not) and pragmatism are often at odds.  However, I think it is possible to pull them both together and make them work in harmony to lead to new and interesting ideas being implemented in a timely way.  That is the business of business in general, is it not?  To bring in new ideas, new methods, and new approaches to getting things that need to be done completed.    

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Health LIteracy

Today, I was at a meeting at the National Institute for Nursing Research (NINR).  It was a meeting of individuals invited to discuss new research questions having to do with NINR's goal of focusing on wellness.  The meeting was described as a brainstorming session.  And at the start of the day today, the meeting was introduced as a chance to do what we always dreamed of doing in graduate school--talking about interesting research questions with colleagues.

One of the questions that we talked about was the most effective way to increase health literacy.  As I joined in the discussion about this issue, I realized how much my thinking about this type of question had changed since I had moved into my position at the Carey Business School last April.

I raised the point that health literacy is not just something that is static.  Asking a person about his or her health literacy is not like asking about their "highest level of educational attainment".  I think that the process we ended up discussing is one that could actually be quite useful:

  • Assess the current level of health literacy
  • Choose an intervention to give an immediate bump to health literacy
  • As the individual searches for new information over time provide information that is in line with the level of health literacy demonstrated at the completion of the initial intervention and continue to try to increase the literacy
  • The last point will allow the individual to learn about new conditions she has, new conditions her children may encounter, and new conditions her parents may encounter
Thus, health literacy should be something that is viewed more like a job skill set for which a person can accumulate position specific human capital rather than an educational attainment level.  My colleagues agreed with that.

I think that the key is to think about how to lay the foundation for individuals to continue to build their health literacy over their lifespans.

The key is to consider how nurses and other health professionals fit into the production of this outcome, the quantity of resources needed, and the return on investment for the individuals and society.  And to think about the business plan to make the process of assessing and improving health literacy in the population a profitable endeavor.