Posted September 21, 2018

Transforming Healthcare: The Immovable Object Meets the Irresistible Force

By Craig Deao, MHA

For anyone old enough to remember the 1987 television event WrestleMania III, you might recall hearing announcer Gorilla Monsoon describe the match between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant as “the irresistible force meets the immovable object.” Hulk was the force and André was the object, and on that day, despite his intimidating size and Goliath-like strength, the giant was defeated by a more agile opponent.

In healthcare today, providers are embroiled in a similar battle. Traditional healthcare delivery is the object; consumerism is the force. The industry has purposely designed systems and organizations that are rigid and inflexible with top-down, authoritarian cultures that focus on eliminating risk. But these attributes can be barriers to change and transformation.

Immovable Object


Irresistible Force


Immovable Object


Irresistible Force


Immovable Object


Irresistible Force


Immovable Object


Irresistible Force


In 2015, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that the irresistible force beats the immovable object every time. “Just up the force until the immovable object is obliterated, after which it’s irrelevant that your object was immovable.”

Which begs the question: are healthcare organizations truly immovable objects or can they, in fact, be moved? I believe that healthcare, as an industry, is capable of transformative change. However, to escape obliteration and irrelevance, leaders must commit to developing consumer-centric care strategies now and innovating to provide the kinds of experiences patients want.

While commitment to these strategies is key, it’s no longer enough. In a recent study conducted by Studer Group, healthcare CEOs and COOs overwhelmingly report that their organizations are committed to excellence (83 percent), yet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that only nine percent of hospitals have received a five-star rating. Why? 

“Not that anybody asked, but the Irresistible Force beats the Immovable Object – every time. Just up the force until the immovable object is obliterated, after which it’s irrelevant that your object was immovable.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson, Twitter, October 2015

Consider this: there are five frogs on a lily pad, and one decides to jump. How many frogs are left on the lily pad? This analogy confuses some people. Most say “four,” but that answer is incorrect; the answer is five. Deciding and jumping are different verbs. Each management team is committed to excellence; that isn’t differentiating. What is? A leadership system focused both on execution and on learning.

An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that as many as 75 percent of businesses struggle to implement their strategies. The commitment and intent to transform is vital and should not be undervalued, but without execution, true disruption cannot take place. So, how can healthcare leaders keep from being a statistic?

In a recent study conducted by Studer Group, 83 percent of respondents said their senior team demonstrates a high degree of commitment.

It requires consistent agility and focused innovation. To fundamentally transform their organizations, healthcare leaders must disrupt traditional thinking and take intelligent risks. Forward-thinkers are already working to make price and quality data transparent and easy to understand, developing accessible telehealth programs, meaningfully incorporating patient-generated health data into care plans and helping patients navigate their care, but there is still more to be done.

Commitment + Strategy + Execution = Transformation

The Cultural Consideration

Organizational culture should also be considered. The Harvard Business Review outlines eight distinct corporate cultures:

  • Learning
  • Purpose
  • Caring
  • Order
  • Safety
  • Authority
  • Results
  • Enjoyment

The top three cultures in healthcare, according to this study, are results, caring and purpose. The authors suggest, though, that the culture most associated with innovation and agility is learning, which ranks as the fifth most-common culture style in healthcare. 

“A strong culture can be a significant liability when it is misaligned with strategy,” according to the authors of the article.

Immovable objects that continue to deliver a product that consumers don’t want will fail.

In healthcare, cultures of results and caring dominate. These types of cultures work well when operating in an unchanging environment. However, if your organizational strategy requires innovation and transformation, a culture of learning is vital. In an industry that is changing, organizations must adapt to meet the demands of the new environment in which they find themselves by developing leaders’ and employees’ skill sets to thrive in these new circumstances.

Immovable objects that continue to deliver a product that consumers don’t want will fail. Structures that were built to stand the test of time only do so if they are delivering what their consumers want.

Consumers are going to get healthcare delivered the way they want. Will it be provided by your organization or a new entrant willing to adjust to meet consumer demand? Healthcare organizations can either own their futures and deliver on what consumers want, or we cede that privilege to someone who will.

Recommendations for Organizational Transformation
  • Determine whether there is leadership alignment on the urgency to transform. Huron and Studer Group’s Organizational Risk and Readiness Assessment can help to identify any gaps.
  • Implement a robust leadership development program that considers industry trends and voice of the customer. Studer Group recommends that healthcare organizations hold Leadership Development Institutes for this purpose at least once a quarter.
  • Reward innovation and intelligent risk-taking. Results are important, but fostering a culture that empowers employees to fail upward is equally vital.
  • Create a dynamic, future-forward strategy that considers the voice of the consumer.
  • Be agile in the execution of your strategy. It should be a guiding document, but not written in stone. As consumer preference and industry trends shift, so should your strategy.


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