INSEAD Participant Interview

Articulate it. Test it. Refine it. Seeking new approaches to innovation in healthcare



Sarah Khan

Head of Delivery for Mental Health & Learning Disability
NHS Improvement
United Kingdom

"I am evangelical about the programme and recommend people to apply every year! They come back to work with the same renewed confidence and sense of freedom to try out doing things differently."

Why did you decide to enroll on the innovating health for tomorrow (IHT) programme?

Partly because I had already attended a programme at INSEAD and so I knew what to expect. The opportunity to come back was too good to miss.

In terms of the type of programme the IHT is, and where I was in my career at the time, it made sense to attend. It seemed like it would help me learn about new strategies to deal with problems that can at times seem intractable.

Indeed, there has never been a greater need for innovation in mental healthcare and so the prospect of returning to work with new ways of thinking could only help.

What did the programme teach you about innovation?

That innovation can be approached as a structured technique that can be employed systematically as a means of addressing new problems and challenges.

Did the programme alter the way you approached your work?

The programme emphasised the importance of taking an iterative approach to developing solutions and strategies – the benefits sometimes of ‘failing fast’ and learning rather than trying to come up with a perfect solution first time. Come up with an idea, don’t completely work it out first time round. Articulate it. Test it. Refine it.

The programme addressed questions such as: how do we design very big approaches to delivering change? In my particular case: how do we design a new approach to how we introduce referral to treatment standards in mental health services? How can we make this very clinically focused? How can we ensure that the approach drives improved access to personalised, evidence-based, recovery focused interventions (so not ‘just’ a waiting time standard to be seen)?

Pre-programme, the way I approached my work was to design something highly worked-up and then test with colleagues and other stakeholders.

Post-programme I do things very differently. I work in a much more collaborative and iterative manner from the outset. The result is that the end-product is much higher quality and better owned as it is recognisably co-produced.

At the same time, you have to articulate your vision and approach succinctly. You can achieve this by testing and refining your idea(s) and working in a structured and collaborative way. For example, my team and I routinely seek input from a wide range of stakeholders for any new policy initiative – this is just ‘the way we do things’.

Did the programme reaffirm what you already knew, but also provide you with new learning?

Definitely. It was a good mix between the new and reaffirmation. I was able to get a range of new strategies and to understand that even if you get knocked back, you have to try again.

The programme helped me think about what innovation is. How do we break it down into a process? Is it something that we can do? It’s not the way national policy typically works and so it was a very new way of thinking and something that really challenged me.

The marketing and design thinking sessions were also very helpful. They consolidated and deepened my thinking around leadership, influencing and working a highly political environment. These sessions were very timely given I was moving from a local role to a national one.

Did the IHT programme have an impact on the way you approached the topic of organisational culture? 

Building a team from scratch, I needed to think about the way we were going to work. I needed to build an organisational culture.

As we went about doing this, some team members commented that they’d never seen policy work done the way we did it. It was a different approach driven partly through necessity and partly through wanting a different way of working. Valuing different perspectives was paramount to the approach and I felt it imperative to get things done in an evidence and values based way.

Working collaboratively, involving people in a meaningful way, so they co-design and own the approach, meant we were recognising each other’s expertise. No one has all the answers. You have to come at a challenge together. 

You also have to recognise that nothing is ever really finished. You finish something just enough to be able to move onto the next thing. By giving people the skills and confidence to be involved in projects, they can come back and keep on making them better. It all comes back to the importance of iteration. 

Over time, we gained a good reputation with stakeholders. They knew we worked collaboratively, that we listened to different points of view and that we took stakeholder needs into consideration.

The IHT programme definitely helped with all of this. It had an impact on my leadership approach within the team and the wider organisation.  

Aside from the above, what other key takeaways did the programme give you?

The importance of being resilient. If you hit a wall, find another route. Do not take no for an answer. You have to become becoming increasingly creative to solve a problem. Expect that there are many ways to solve a problem. If one way does not work, find another way. Also, don’t ever try to find it by yourself.

What would you say to someone who is considering the programme?

Firstly, I am evangelical about the programme and recommend people to apply every year! They come back to work with the same renewed confidence and sense of freedom to try out doing things differently. How do you stop a team from becoming stale? Shake it up and that’s what the programme helps do.  

The personal development the programme gives you in terms of leadership development is second to none and for that reason, I want others to attend.

It also offers you a space to reflect, a luxury we don’t often get to spend time on. And you can do this whilst networking with people from totally different backgrounds to your own and who operate in completely different healthcare systems – each with their own advantages and challenges.

Overall, I found the quality of teaching to be fantastic. It really was high quality development time. Rather than what you do, the programme focuses on the way you do it.

Interested in INSEAD's Innovating Health for Tomorrow programme? Have a look at the web page.

Innovating Health for Tomorrow is the result of the Trust’s longstanding partnership with INSEAD to provide management education for healthcare professionals. INSEAD is a Flagship Partner within the Trust’s 2020 strategy and a key component of the Trust’s goal to advance knowledge and innovation in seeking to transform health care systems. The Trust works across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region in making a difference in human health through multiple social impact interventions. Currently within the Trust’s partnership portfolio there are over 70 active programmes run with partner organisations. For more information about the Trust and its activities, please visit

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