NIATx Principle 4: Get ideas from outside the organization or field

Submitted by: 01/06/2017 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Creative thinking is integral to the NIATx model, and we encourage you to think outside the box when brainstorming changes to test. One important element of this (so important, in fact, that we made it one of the five NIATx principles) is looking to industries outside your field for ideas and practices that can be applied in one form or another in the treatment setting. There is much to be learned from the successes of businesses in other industries, and there is no reason that the practices that work for them cannot be creatively reshaped to allow your organization to be more successful.

See related blog post by Dave Gustafson: What addiction treatment can learn from the McRib and windpower

Compare any two industries, no matter how different they may seem, and you’ll almost always be able to find parallels and commonalities. No matter what the objective of your process improvement project might be, if you look hard enough and think creatively enough, you’ll discover that other businesses have comparable objectives, or that the challenges they face are similar to the ones that you face. Examining the strategies and practices that these businesses have put in place to achieve those objectives or to overcome those challenges can help you generate creative ideas for pilot testing, whether they’re nearly identical to those practices that have worked for other businesses or inspired by them.

Why Look to Other Fields

One reason that looking outside the field can be helpful is that during the course of a change project, you’ll likely come up with a number of objectives related to the larger aim of the project with which you have little experience and don’t know how to initiate. However, there is likely another industry for whom achieving that same objective is an essential part of their business model and, thus, something they’ve already developed successful strategies to deal with. What this means is that if you can identify these cases, you can adapt the experience and knowledge of other companies to your advantage.

To illustrate this point, imagine that, in an effort to increase admissions, you decide to explore ways of getting the word out to referral agencies about the services your organization offers, accomplishments you are proud of, etc. Publicity isn’t a treatment agency’s primary concern, and it likely isn’t something you know much about or are particularly skilled in. However, there’s a whole industry devoted solely to publicity, and there are numerous tried-and-true, time-tested strategies employed by any good publicist. These practices are employed because publicists know they work. So when you’re trying to attract the attention of referral sources, you’d do well to steal some tips from the masters. What could you learn from the way they operate? Publicists maintain meticulous databases with up-to-date contact information of people and businesses that they market products to. They don’t only keep records of the main contact number for a company they’re marketing to, but the specific person at that business who would be most interested in the product, and they keep their databases categorized by type of markets.

Furthermore, a good publicist would send customized press releases to different types of publications, tailored to fit that publication’s audience. In essence, they put time and effort into figuring out what information to send and to whom to send it. Knowing how a publicist operates lets you borrow some of their practices and use them for your own purposes. And remember, you don’t need to adopt all their practices—you might find that it makes a big difference simply to learn the name of the person at a referral agency who would be most interested in your organization’s services, so you know to whom to address promotional materials.

There is really no limit to what you can learn from the strategies and practices of other industries provided you are willing to think creatively about how they can be related to your own organization.

From The NIATx Model: Process Improvement in Behavioral Health

Want to learn more about getting ideas from outside the field?  Attend the NIATx Change Leader Academy Spring 2017--Registration now open! 

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