The need for innovation, positive deviance and disruption in healthcare

Never before has there been a more urgent need for positive deviance in healthcare. With healthcare costs spiraling out of control, inconsistent quality and safety, and high rates of physician and nurse frustration with the system resulting in a high rate of burnout, something has to change. We must embrace positive deviance and disruptive innovation in an effort to catalyze these changes. There is a need for a new innovation leadership model that prepares “positive deviants.” Dan Weberg, who is the senior director of innovation and leadership at the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system based on Oakland, California, as well as a faculty member of the Master in Healthcare Innovation program at The Ohio State University states, “Positive deviants are those people that thrive in systems that are failing. They find innovative ways to advance their work when others maintain a failing status quo.”

Driving innovation demands that leaders lean into their discomfort to create the change that is so desperately needed in healthcare today. The innovation leaders of today must be prepared with tools not traditionally taught in industrial models of leadership development. Design thinking, complexity science, complex adaptive systems and professional governance are examples of some of these tools.

To highlight the need for positive deviance and disruption, Shelagh Dolan authored an article in Business Insider titled “How Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are Shaking Up Healthcare — and What it Means for the Future of the Industry.” These four industries have several things in common: they are nimble, have money, do not let failure get in the way of progress and innovation, and have vision. These companies have been positive deviants in the tech world and are now bringing it to healthcare. Why? Because they can, they are great at what they do and are not going to sit back and wait for the healthcare system to fix itself. What these companies bring to healthcare is where healthcare systems typically fail: money, the ability to be nimble, aversion to failure and sometimes vision.

Now this does not mean that there are no examples of positive deviants in the current healthcare system — because there are. Places like Boston’s Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente healthcare system, and Geisinger healthcare system in Danville, Pennsylvania are just a few of many. These organizations have the leadership to drive innovation and change and as organizations, possess values and qualities similar to Alphabet, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Innovation is a part of their DNA.

The time for change is now through innovation leadership, positive deviance and disruption. The cliché “get on the bus or get run over” has never been truer. I welcome your thoughts.


Dolan, S. “How Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are shaking up healthcare — and what it means for the future of the industry”. Business Insider. July 28, 2018.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.