An Exclusive Interview with Kedar Mate, Chief Innovation Officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). Mr. Mate considers a mindset invested in curiosity a vital characteristic of not just doers and innovators, but also of leaders.
At the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Mr. Mate is increasingly hiring candidates based on their CQ, Curiosity Quotient. Characteristics of CQ candidates include:
- Divergent thinkers operating beyond a fixed mindset
- Originative minds who bring play to what they’re trying to create
- People with new ideas, and new concepts to provoke the healthcare industry
Mr. Mate understands that healthcare responds to performance. Healthcare responds to better care, responds to better outcomes, both to clinical outcomes, and financial performance outcomes. Therefore, he gives his team the freedom, time, and space to create new ideas and new concepts that provoke the industry.
Mate is connecting the creativity that his team is putting into their work, and the curiosity they’re also putting into their work, to REAL results that matter to their patients.
At Ludolo, we believe curiosity is an important skill that must be developed in order to establish a culture of innovation. Through the use of habit-forming games, we create collaborative real time experiences that develop neural pathways in adults, the very building blocks in the brain that spark creativity. We equip organizations with the tools to scale and measure play’s effectiveness on innovation, and develop the emotional well-being of each employee in the process.
In this interview, you’ll discover:
- The importance of creative curiosity to arrive at different conclusions
- How IHI uses adjacent innovation to boost performance
- How IHI explores different systems (outside of healthcare) to find new solutions
Listen in above, or read below the transcript of our interview with Kedar Mate.
Roger Manix: Hey everyone. I’m Roger Manix, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Ludolo. We are a play based learning company that sparks innovation, strengthens culture, and fosters human connection, all while developing emotional and social intelligence.
Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Kedar Mate. Hello, Kedar.
Kedar Mate: Hi there. Good to be with you.
Roger Manix: Yeah, good to have you. So, Kedar is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which is widely known as IHI.
IHI is an independent not for profit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts and is a leading innovator in health, and healthcare improvement worldwide.
Kedar has a rich history of working in the hospital, and healthcare industry. He’s skilled in healthcare consulting, clinical research, medical education, innovation methods, quality management, and program evaluation. And he earned his doctor of medicine from Harvard Medical School.
All right, thanks for joining me today Kedar, And let’s just jump right in.
Kedar Mate: Sounds good.
Roger Manix: Here’s our first question. What did you play as a kid? Was there a go to game, or a favorite game that you liked to play growing up?
Kedar Mate: Wow, good question. Two things immediately came to mind. One is something that my kids still do, which is play with Legos. I was a builder, and I loved playing with Legos. I had a particular obsession with outer space, and so a lot of my Lego playing involved building spaceships and spacecraft, and things like that when I was a kid.
The other thing that came to mind a little bit older, I think I was, and I just remember spending hours in front of a Nintendo playing The Legend of Zelda, which is, as many of you may know, a quest based adventure game. But, I remember many, many hours lost staring at the computer screen playing Legend of Zelda.
Roger Manix: Listen, so in one of my interviews that I had with another Chief Innovation Officer this week, I talked about the Legend of Zelda because what I said is I was stuck on this one level forever and ever. And I had my bow and arrow with the flame on the end of it, and I threw my bow and arrow to kind of kill one of the monsters coming at me, but it missed the monster and accidentally hit a tree, and the tree burned to the ground. And what was under the tree was a secret stairway to the next level that I would have never known had I not made that mistake.
Kedar Mate: I missed the secret level that you found.
Roger Manix: I was a bit of a Zelda junkie.
Kedar Mate: Yeah.
Roger Manix: Yeah, and how about today? Do you play today? What might that look like?
Kedar Mate: Today I feel like I play in certain ways. There’s some formal ways I play. I play tennis still, there’s sports I don’t play as much… I played sports most of my life, soccer, basketball, tennis. But, what I can still play now and play competitively is, is primarily tennis. And that I enjoy doing quite a bit. I, in some ways the same obsessive that tried to get through the legend of Zelda is now transferring that obsession and play to pursuit of better tennis play. Although, I don’t know, I’m pretty stuck where I am I think on some level.
The other way I think I play is with my kids. They play all the time, often doing similar things to what I used to do as a kid, legos, sports, whatever. And I get a chance to re-experience a bit of that with them.
In the work environment because of my job, I sort of think of my job as being relearning how to play, and relearning how to learn frankly.
In many ways that that sort of, the ability to learn is beaten out of us somehow as we age, as we get older. But, kids have it naturally, right? That’s part of when they sort of tinker with toys like Legos or whatever. It’s play, but, it’s also learning, it’s simultaneous. They’re doing both at the same time.
Roger Manix: For sure.
Kedar Mate: And for me in the workplace, in an innovation team or innovation department, that’s a lot of what we’re doing is bringing play back to what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to create.
Roger Manix: Now that the music to my ears. I mean you, and you know, you really touched on this one thing where I think at some point in our lives we all had this really kind of crappy moment in our education where someone looked at what we were doing, and what they thought was play and frivolous, and they said grow up and cut that out. Sit down and take your seat. Cause if you’re not getting on the boss’s good side, or a plaque on the door, or a zero on the paycheck, the work can be looked at as frivolous. That it’s not teaching us something. But actually play is sort of the birth mother of innovation, and it’s responsible for so much of our executive function development, our non cognitive skill development.
So yeah, I see that moment when it was beat out of us as a real unfortunate, pivotal time for our education system.
I get that every organization is really different. So, it’d help our listeners, and myself to have a better understanding of what’s your role as the chief innovation officer at IHI? And then tell us a little bit sort of about the team, or the teams that you may lead.
Kedar Mate: Sure. So, IHI as you described at the top of this conversation is a relatively small, not for profit organization. But, it’s got a big mission of trying to change the industry that we’re a part of, healthcare. And our specific opportunity spaces around improving service delivery, improving how the systems of healthcare perform to sort of deliver greater value and better care for patients.
I am responsible for the innovation team within the organization. So, the organization itself is trying to provoke the industry. I’m responsible for the part of the organization that’s trying to create the new ideas, new concepts that would then provoke the industry.
So, it’s a wonderful place to be inside of this dynamic and interesting and innovative company. And we’re a relatively small group within this organization. There’s about fifteen of us or so that, if you count us all up in different ways. But we have the freedom, we have the time, we have the space to be creative, to think differently. We recognize sometimes when we’re doing things that are, adjacent innovation is the way I’d describe it, or the way we describe it. It’s not necessarily truly transformational, but it’s close to what we’re doing already. But it’s a little bit of a different perspective or slightly different tweak on the thing that might lead to better performance.
Then there are times when we’re really going into the field trying to do something really radical and new and, and bring a completely different idea to the industry. And that often, for us requires getting out of our comfort zone, getting out of our mental models around how the industry is currently behaving and how we’re tackling a present problem.
For us that means going to watch how lines form at Fenway park. You know, it’s if we’re trying to work on a flow problem or a queuing theory issue, it’s like watching these things happen in a very different environment and watching a different system actually try to tackle a problem that we have in health care using a completely different set of tools. That gets us into a different zone of creativity, and allows us to find new ways of addressing problems that have been present for a long time. And I think that there’s a bit of creativity working there. There’s a bit of play actually for us, and how we think about that.
Roger Manix: Without a doubt there’s a bit of play. I mean, you should see me, I’m just shaking my head in agreement while you’re speaking. Of course. I love the experiential nature of what you’re talking about as well. And I keep thinking that, any foray into innovation truly has to have an element of letting go of old ideas, right? Of really sort of building upon what we know. But at the same time, how do we venture into uncertainty and ambiguity as best as we can and see what happens in that space?
I’m an avid meditator, and one of my teachers always says, “You know the bad news is, you’ve fallen out of an airplane without a parachute. But the good news is there is no ground.” So, there’s this idea where it’s like I won’t smash into anything. So, you may as well enjoy the ride on the way down. I read [crosstalk 00:09:24].
Roger Manix: No please, go ahead.
Kedar Mate: Yeah. As you’re saying that, I was thinking to myself that on some level in healthcare we’ve gotten, so… We get fixated on the business and the daily grind, that we don’t often pick our heads up to look at the bigger picture on some level.
And that’s another way that we often sort of reach breakthrough thinking. But, the truth is that we… Kids, this is why kids are so good at play on some level, and why we as adults struggle with it on some level. I think that kids don’t have a lot of fixed mental models, and assumptions about the way things are supposed to work. They’re free to kind of play, and explore, and be creative. And they reach different conclusions all the time through their actions and activities.
And a lot of what we’re trying to do on our research and our innovation team is to do exactly the same thing. Is to remove the fixed mental models that are present around healthcare in our case. And break through to different ways of thinking, so that we can arrive at different conclusions potentially that might be very impactful.
Roger Manix: You’re talking so much about divergent thinking, and what happens. There’s that really famous test that’s out there about, there was a longitudinal test about giving, I think it was if my numbers are correct here it was 1500 kindergartners a bunch of paperclips. And they said to them, “Hey, what else could these paper clips be on the table than what they are you know, right now?” And if you scored above a certain level, you were a genius.
So, this was a longitudinal study. They asked them at five, ten, and fifteen years old. So, the five year olds, kindergartners, 98% of them scored at the genius level. They asked those same kids again at ten years old, “Hey, what could these be?” 30% scored at the genius level. Then they asked them again at fifteen years old, 12% at the genius level.
Something must be going on in our schooling where we’re really robbing these students of divergent thinking. The funny thing is they’ve done this same exact tests for adults where the average age was 36 years old. And guess how many adults scored above the genius level, or at the genius level?
Kedar Mate: It’s got to be less than 5% but I don’t know.
Roger Manix: Yep, two percent, yep. Two percent. So, the kindergartners are kicking our butts.
So, I was reading this really… I was reading an interview that you gave on making the case for innovation, which touches on some key points you offer in a larger white paper on the same exact topic. And what immediately struck me was when you shared, and I quote, “The purpose of the white paper is to help organizations become better innovators. That is to become better at generating and discovering new ideas, adapting new approaches to fit the local setting, and spreading what works.”
You know, that perfectly aligns with what we do at Ludolo using collaborative play to instigate, and generate, and discover ideas.
So, this is a two part question. First, would you say that curiosity is a core element of creativity?
Kedar Mate: Oh my gosh, absolutely. I had a boss once that described how she hired. We used to hire for IQ, then hired for a emotional ability, EQ, and now increasingly was hiring for CQ, curiosity. For someone in my position, I think curiosity is vital. I mean again, you don’t see kids… Kids are intrinsically curious, and it makes them excellent players, and creative geniuses. This is why they score so well on that. I think absolutely curiosity is a vital characteristic of not just of doers and innovators, but also leaders.
Kedar Mate: I think if you’re not curious about what’s happening on the shop floor in your organization, or in your customers, or you know wherever you are and whatever you’re working on, it’s an intrinsic, important leadership skill.
Roger Manix: Agreed. And, so if we know that curiosity, right, is part of creativity, now pure creativity fuels innovation. How do you currently drive curiosity for creativity within your industry?
Kedar Mate: Yeah, so within the industry, I think the way… So I mean, like a lot of industries, health care responds to performance. It responds to better care, responds to better outcomes, both clinical outcomes and to financial performance outcomes. And so in some ways I think that the answer to the question around this is to note where the most curious and most inspired organizations are. But, also connect those to real results that are taking place at the level of the individual patient, family, community and organization. And to me that’s part of the answer here is to make sure that we’re connecting. A lot of what we do at IHI is connecting the creativity that we’re putting into our work, and the curiosity we’re putting into our work, to real results that matter to patients everyday. So that’s, that’s how I’d make the connection.
Roger Manix: Mm-hmm (affirmative) And, for your upcoming IHI conference, which I believe is in December. Yes?
Kedar Mate: Yeah, that’s right.
Roger Manix: Are you bringing this topic of the need for innovation and the work that your team of about fifteen are doing? Is that conversation coming into the platform?
Kedar Mate: Absolutely. We always… We feature first of all at that meeting, a number of the ideas that we’ve worked on over the course of the year. So, that that comes out always, we do this conference every year in December. And the idea is that we work on over the course of the year are always featured throughout the conference, and various sessions.
But, the bigger question around how innovation should occur, how curiosity and indeed play and creativity should occur, is also featured it on its own merits. And, essentially you show kind of the methods that led to a lot of the things that we actually feature at the conference.
Roger Manix: Oh, that’s great. What about a specific time, maybe within your team, where you all may have hit some sort of creative block, the logs were jamming up the dam so to speak? Can you recall a moment where that happened, and maybe what you did to overcome it? An idea that you had, or someone in your team had?
Kedar Mate: Yeah. You know, I was thinking about this as you were speaking. I was thinking about a time when we were working on handoffs. There’s a common thing in healthcare where people… Throughout a healthcare journey, you may have experienced one of these scenarios yourself or a family member may have. But, as you go through a hospital or a healthcare experience, you get passed from one care giver, one care team to the next. One nurse to the next one, doctor the next, etcetera. And, these moments are opportunities for error, and mishandling of the handoff.
And we started thinking about, we were struggling with this question. Healthcare continues to struggle with this question, and has for decades now. And what we did is, we looked at a high fidelity system. We were like, “Huh, what can we do?” Can we find a, a system that does hand off extremely well with almost a hundred percent reliability, never fails, or virtually never fails. And the thing that came to mind for us was the handoff that airlines do when children, or minors are traveling, right?
Roger Manix: Yeah.
Kedar Mate: It’s a complicated system. You have to get through an airport, you have to go on a plane, the kid has to be delivered to the family on the other end. You’ve got to make sure that people that are picking up the kid are the right people, etcetera, etcetera, it cannot fail. Right? If that system fails, you can imagine the kind of [crosstalk 00:17:47]
Roger Manix: Ramifications will come from that for sure.
Kedar Mate: Yeah. It’s a extremely, highly reliable process of handoffs. Multiple handoffs that happen across many, many points of care and contact. And so, we thought about that and we studied essentially an airline that did that really well. And we learned from that process some of the things that they did well and that was sort of helpful to us to get us out of our present frame of reference, or present mental models about the system that we were operating within and healthcare.
Roger Manix: Oh, I love that. That’s so marvelous. I mean, first of all, it’s kind of novel as well too. The idea of it is fascinating because it isn’t one that necessarily one would go to.
But what I love is, there’s this educational philosophy called pragmatism, which is a lot about what we prescribed to at Ludolo. And it has two components. The first component is the learning. Whatever it is that you’re learning. It has to be associated outside of the learning to a bigger context in the world. So, it has to be pragmatic. And the other aspect is, it has to be kind of experiential. And it sounds like you flirted with that when you shadowed this airline to watch how they [inaudible 00:19:06] kids safely. That’s really smart.
Kedar Mate: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’d say it’s a bit of finding a good analogy like we did in the case of an airline industry, but also, seeing it take place, observing it. Because there’s a lot of things that people will tell you about how that system works.
Roger Manix: Oh for sure.
Kedar Mate: You can read about that, and you can see it. But, then there’s sort of the things that people are doing without even being conscious of the fact that they’re doing it. That teaches you something else about what it takes to build a highly reliable system like that.
Roger Manix: Yeah. I want to be mindful of our time together and we’re coming up on our 15 minute mark. So, I want to ask you one last question here, which goes back to our initial question. When you shared about playing Legos as a kid, and I’d love to know what skills did you tinkering with Legos then, and maybe you tinkering with Legos and now with your kids. What skills did that develop in you, which have been really useful and kind of non-negotiable throughout your career?
Kedar Mate: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the anchor learning theory or practice behind our work at IHI is actually a learning model that’s called plan do study act cycles. It comes from, industry and from systems engineers. But, that learning cycle planning, a test of change, implementing it, studying the consequences of that change, and then acting on the consequences of the study. That learning loop, which is now formalized, we have to relearn how to learn, as I said earlier. But, if I think back to when I was playing with my Legos, and watch my kids play with their Legos, or play with them myself. They’re completing those learning loops every time when they build something. And I think that skill, that sort of pursuit of continual learning has become core to really who I am fundamentally. But, I think professionally also who I am as well and has been, if I had to say, what did I… What’s sort of become part of me as a result of playing with those Legos.
Roger Manix: Yeah.
Kedar Mate: I’d say it’s that spirit of continuous learning.
Roger Manix: I love that. I love continuous learning, and I really love this idea that the learner has to be centered to the learning environment. You know, not the lecturer.
I want to thank you so much for your time today, and your zeal, and your enthusiasm around your own play history, and also how that’s really influenced you as a parent and as a chief innovation officer, and as a human in the world.
We at Ludolo believe that collaborative play is nature’s greatest teacher to train the mind and body, and what it means to be human in the digital age.
So, I’ll leave all of our listeners with that. I’d like to say thank you one last time for sharing your knowledge with us today, and I hope you have a really wonderful day.
Kedar Mate: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Roger Manix: My pleasure, be well.
Kedar Mate: Thanks.