My first HMI course as a scholar came at a difficult time in my life and for the world. It was summer 2021 and the hope was that the world was about to start becoming “normal” again as we were recovering from the early phase of the pandemic. My mother had just passed away and during that week, I was not sure how I would cope. The Leading Innovations in Health Care & Education course was virtual, but my memory is vivid. The quality of the speakers, the kind and talented facilitators, the content, the innovative online delivery, the pedagogy, the novelty and the intensity were all very real. Some of the content was truly inspirational. The business ideas of Clay Christensen on disruptive innovation and the focus on education, learning and leadership was intriguing and stimulating.

Right from the outset, we were introduced to the concept of experiential learning, prompting me to reflect on the varied approaches to teaching and learning through the lens of the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory. I tended to lean towards Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualization. What proved most significant, however, was the realization of the diversity in how individuals learn. Others may thrive on Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation. This insight encouraged me to embrace flexibility, to explore different approaches to learning beyond my own preferences. It underscored the value of not just reflecting and theorizing, but also actively engaging and experiencing to engage our learners in all the ways they learn. By methodically deconstructing the learning process, delving into the reasons behind our learning, and exposing the essential concepts, methods of application, and  potential outcomes, we experienced the steps necessary to catalyze transformative change.

These concepts began to shape my identity as an academic physician and a medical educator, as I navigated my role within both my institution and the broader professional landscape. HMI’s founding director Liz Armstrong asserted that "Everybody is a leader," which resonated deeply with me, proving to be a profoundly liberating realization. Her distinction between managers and leaders, delivered not as criticism but as clarification, struck a chord. She emphasized that anyone interested in fostering positive organizational change possesses leadership potential. This marked the first time I truly embraced my own capacity for leadership, and it fundamentally altered my self-perception. Empowered by this newfound perspective, I approached my work within my institution with renewed confidence and a sense of purpose. It was not merely the words themselves that impacted me, but rather her persuasive teaching style that drove the message home.

Then something interesting happened, I gained an unexpected insight. “A Good Leader is a Good Teacher.” That connection was powerful. If I am a leader and a teacher, then my purpose is to connect these two. If I am a good teacher, I can use those skills to be a good leader and vice versa. The experiential way of learning aligns with an experiential way of leadership.

The journey continued with another profound connection: the innovator. The discussion turned to the intertwined concepts of creativity and innovation. Creativity was defined as the process of generating original ideas, a trait inherent in each of us. Yet, the true challenge lies in transforming these ideas into tangible innovations that reshape our lives. The question emerged: How do we channel our creativity into innovation? How do we become successful innovators? Here, Clayton Christensen's framework of the Innovator's DNA provided valuable insights, outlining five key components: Associational Thinking, Questioning, Observing/Listening, Experimenting, and Networking. These principles coalesced, offering a tangible roadmap for success. It became clear that I could embody all these roles: a clinician leveraging my expertise to aid others, a teacher with an understanding of diverse learning processes, a leader spearheading essential change, and an innovator harnessing creativity to drive transformative implementation.

The course was intense and busy. Many new ideas were circulating about education, leadership, innovation, and healthcare. I met people from different backgrounds and from all around the world and the conversations were stimulating. It was just Monday – with a full week ahead of me – and I was already changing.

This course made me reflect on ideas such as institutional culture and mission, innovation in health care, and the role of academic medical centers. I was able to consolidate, apply knowledge and innovate within multiple small groups allowing me, in a safe environment, to experiment and bounce back ideas with peers who stimulated my learning. At the end of the week, course faculty Rob Martello, describing the innovative approach at Olin College of Engineering as a case study, completed the puzzle. Their efforts to re-design the promotion process, the working definitions of teaching (developing students), service (building the college), and research (external impact) prompted deep reflection on my institutional practices. This introspection encouraged me to redefine my approach in a manner that was not only meaningful and organic but also fully aligned with my daily responsibilities; taking care of patients (clinician), developing students (teaching), building my institution and the greater community (service and leadership) and having external impact through scholarly work and innovation (research).

Returning home, this course provided me with a comprehensive roadmap for understanding my professional identity and effectively managing the various roles I fulfill. With a heightened awareness of their significance and impact, I found myself wearing multiple hats with renewed purpose. The transformative nature of this process cannot be overstated; it not only brought me greater happiness but also enhanced my ability to assist others through mentorship. Throughout this journey, spanning the course and my subsequent two years as an HMI faculty small group leader, I acquired a wealth of knowledge. Serving as a facilitator offered not only the opportunity to support new scholars but also to continually learn and deepen my understanding. Whether exploring new concepts like design thinking or revisiting familiar principles such as those elucidated in Jim Collins' monograph "Good to Great and the Social Sectors" each encounter contributed to my growth.

In conclusion, this course has been a catalyst for transformation in various aspects of my life, and I am deeply grateful to Clayton Christiansen (who I unfortunately never met), Liz Armstrong, Derek Van Bever, Josh Nagler, Sarah Wood and the many other HMI leaders who welcomed me into this group for the duration of this great experience. Despite the difficult times in my life and many challenges I was going through at the time, this experience proved to be a gift of inspiration and growth. 

Kostas Arnaoutakis

Konstantinos Arnaoutakis MD, FACP (Leaders ‘21) Is a medical oncologist, associate professor and program director of the Hematology Oncology fellowship program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Konstantinos areas of professional interest include educational leadership and communication. Konstantinos can be followed on Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via email