2020 – A year for innovation, teamwork, and resilience

Cathy Eddy


Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, The Wharton School of Business; Bestselling Author; Host: WorkLife, a TED Original Podcast, joins the Health Plan Alliance for its Fall Leadership Forum as part of the CKE Lecture Series. Cathy Eddy shares some of the highlights of his talk in this blog.

If there has ever been a year when life took some unexpected turns, it has been 2020. The year started with an excellent economy and full employment. The COVID pandemic, perhaps a truly once in a century event, took the wind of the economy’s sails by the end of the first quarter. The national lockdown made the virtual workplace and homeschooling take on a whole new meaning. It stressed our health care delivery system, accelerated telehealth use, and many other changes to the industry.

One of the points that Adam Grant made about innovation is the importance of psychological safety – feeling free to try new things without fear of failure. Leaders can encourage openness by sharing their own experiences, especially when things didn’t work, but they were willing to try. Another important consideration is how you will measure success – do you focus on outcomes or processes? You can succeed with a bad process, or fail with a good process. Failure comes with innovation, but having a good process can often lead you to better outcomes.

The Health Plan Alliance has created a safe environment for members to share their experiences, and their stories often include what didn’t work as well as what did. Knowing what pitfalls to avoid can be as valuable as the right steps to take.

We often look at innovation to try new things around the edges, but this year we couldn’t help but look at innovation as a way of life. Adam suggested renaming the “idea box” to the “problem box.” This naming convention helps to make it a safe environment to express their issues. You can then take votes, prioritize, and build a team to work on the problem. Another way to bring out creativity is to do a “kill the company” exercise. How to put yourself out of business is a safe way to problem solve.

Adam suggested this Wharton article for more information about running innovation tournaments.
Adam encouraged us to harness the strength within weakness, especially during these times of crisis. “What if we got people to ask each other for help?” Get people’s requests out on the table and then seek help from the experts. It’s a great way to leverage your team and networks.

As the author of Give and Take, Adam said that we tend to gravitate to “agreeable givers” because they are compliant and easy to work with. But “disagreeable givers” can actually add greater value. They challenge the status quo because they care. They tear apart ideas, are passionate, and become credible advocates.


The pandemic has created so many challenges on both a professional and personal level that being resilient is important to teams. Adam offers these suggestions and perspectives to help leaders and your teams:

  • People are working more hours now than before and are spending those hours in meetings most of the day. Set up a “quiet time” in your organization – a boundary that gives mental flexibility where there are no meetings, emails, or calls. This intentional time will improve productivity for you and your team.
  • Be aware that those who integrate their personal and professional lives adjust better during the pandemic, and those who continue to segment will see more struggle
  • Set goals – not for what you’d like to do but how you’d like to feel
  • Master the art of time travel

Scott Kelly went into space three times, and the last time was for one year. Adam asked him his goal to manage expectations and was told, “I want to feel the same energy and enthusiasm as when I left.” Adam said you could do this by imagining a future point for re-entry when the pandemic is over – it makes it more real and less uncertain – speeds up the sense of time. Then you can work backward. Giving a personal example, Adam said his kids shared their excitement about imagining their post-pandemic vacation.

Getting teams together online doesn’t need to be frequent to allow for collaboration. Intermittent sessions with intense bursts will work to generate energy and ideas. It’s become essential to schedule a time for shared work in a remote culture. Another way to get to know each other better, especially with new team members you have never met in person, is to share stories. You can ask people to tell a story about a defining moment where the culture was great or where a value was violated – this creates a bond. Adam also said that when you tell an embarrassing story first, you get 26% more ideas and 15% more variety.

Option B
One area that Adam addresses in his book, Option B, is the difference between empathy and avoidance when dealing with difficult subjects. You want to respect an individual’s privacy. However, when you share your personal struggles, you can normalize vulnerability and show compassion. This exercise can be critical to cultivating diversity and inclusion. People want to “fit in” with the majority and may not discuss what makes them feel uncomfortable. Welcoming diverse perspectives and sharing personal stories can help us avoid stereotypes and see everyone as an individual. Adam suggested asking this question, “What is a defining moment in your life, and what made you who you are today?”

Think Again
When we have the opportunity to return to the office, how will the environment change? Adam said that hopefully, COVID closes the door on the open office. Studies have found that employees are less satisfied, less productive, and have less face to face collaboration as they communicate primarily via email. There will be more emphasis on the remote workplace – pre-pandemic data showed it was most effective when employees are in the office 2-3 days a week, which helps easily exchange ideas, informal meetings, and collaboration. It allows for a creative collision.
Adam has a new book coming out in February called Think Again, and he gave us a preview of some of the highlights that can help us plan for the future:

  • There’s a power in knowing what you don’t know. We need to rethink the assumptions we hold dear. 
  • In a stable world, we tend to rely on intelligence to make decisions, but we will do better rethinking our assumptions in a dynamic, changing world
  • The smarter you are, the more you tend to look for patterns and use confirmation bias to make decisions
  • To rethink, you need to invalidate what you know and be willing to change your mind
  • Form opinions and determine the conditions under which you would change your mind

Sometimes it’s valuable to know how to have a good fight. Adam likes to spar with fellow author and speaker Malcolm Gladwell. Adam told Malcolm that if he disagrees, he values Malcom’s opinion enough to want to change it and respect his thought processes. 
He shared how he sets up a healthy exchange to get out different views in a healthy manner.  First, frame the disagreement as a “debate” – this changes your mental model. Then shift from “why,” where one’s view is pre-existing, to “how” it will work, which is more complex, challenge barriers and unintended consequences. It’s important to respect people you disagree with and to listening to their perspectives, which can expand our thinking. 

In a year that has brought so many changes, challenges, and disruptions, Adam’s advice can help us plan for and adjust to a post-pandemic world.



CKE Lecture Series

Cathy K. Eddy founded the Alliance in 1996 and retired from the organization on April 30, 2018. Over the course of her career, she has championed the success of Alliance members, and has been an invaluable catalyst of collaboration throughout the health care industry. To honor her contributions, the Alliance has established the Cathy K. Eddy Health Care Leadership Lecture Series fund. 

This program brings in nationally recognized experts to inform and inspire Alliance members.  These thought leaders push our thinking on the issues Cathy cares about most, which include collaboration, innovation, governance, and mentorship.


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View resources from the Fall Leadership Forum

Agenda: Fall Leadership Forum 2020

The Fall Leadership Forum is a completely virtual event designed to create space for leaders to think about very real, very tough issues. Read More

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