I’m so happy to introduce you to my good friend Kara Trott, CEO, Quantum Health. In my book, Leading Through the Turn, Kara shows us how we can take smart risks, innovate and get out of our comfort zone – all to help drive our businesses forward.
Kara founded Quantum Health nearly 20 years ago as a disruptive force in the health care benefits industry. She is a lawyer by trade and her “outsider” perspective is absolutely a competitive advantage. She cultivates that by proactively looking in unexpected places for new ideas worth trying.
I sat down with her recently to talk about how she has learned to take smart risks — here are the highlights of our conversation.
You can watch Kara’s video here or read the transcript below.
Elise Mitchell: How did you come up with the idea of your company?
Kara Trott: My company uses adaptive innovation. I had worked in other industries and when I started working in the healthcare space, there was simply no understanding of the consumer journey or comprehension of how people go about doing things. So my business really just adapts innovation from other areas, or actually adapts proven concepts from other areas into a space where it really hasn’t been applied before. And we’ve actually done that not just with our product, but our entire business model.
EM: Would you consider yourself a risk-taker by nature?
KT: I don’t personally think of myself as a major risk taker, but a very calculated risk-taker. I’m not into risky behaviors like Elise’s motorcycles – I’d be terrified to be on one of those! So, I myself am not an innovation junkie or a risk junkie. I like to have an understanding of how something is going to yield a better result in a specific area. I like to know the hypothesis and take theory to practice and try it. And if that works and we learn about it and keep moving forward.
EM: How do you overcome fears of failure?
KT: My theory about business is you’re either going forward or you’re going backward. You’re not staying the same. You don’t have a choice as a business leader to not try new things and drive your business forward. I do think, however, you have to be very careful about understanding what makes your business work. I’m very focused on how to drive the end result and always look at how we can get better and better. How do we support our people, how do we support our organization?
All of this occurs in the context of our business model as we build deeper connections with people who are on an unchosen healthcare journey. You have to always be asking the question, ‘Okay, we did this – now what can we do? What did we learn and what more can we do with it?’ I’m a firm believer that the world doesn’t stay in place. Every time we advance something, others are looking at us and trying to copy us. They take a little piece of that and they try to learn it. So we always have to be five or six steps ahead of everybody else or they will eventually figure something out or go a different direction and we’ll be irrelevant.
EM: How do you get diverse thinking in your point of view as a leader?
KT: What’s more important for you as a leader is to ask great questions. You have to be curious. The best tactic is to start asking questions. ‘Tell me about this, help me understand this, what if this happened.’
One of the most powerful words in the English language is ‘imagine.’ And I sometimes will put ideas out there in the form of a question like, ‘Imagine if… X-Y-Z. What if it worked that way?’ You’ll then get people engaged because you’re not really saying, ‘Go do it this way.’ You’re not telling them, “Oh I have this great idea, it needs to be this way.” You’re sort of exploring and it’s safe. Because something may come of it or something may not come of it.
EM: How important is execution of ideas?
KT: So, my personal view is that a C idea executed at an A level is infinitely more powerful that an A idea with C execution. Now, that doesn’t mean I prefer a C idea executed in A level.’ The best solution is an A idea with A execution. But the bottom line is you really don’t know how good your idea is.
I truly believe the power of an idea is how effectively it’s executed. The key thing is to have enough grain of an idea that you proceed with the exploration like I mentioned earlier of asking “Imagine if, give me your best thinking on how this might work, and what are the pitfalls of it, what could take this down? What would be a really bad outcome and what would be a great outcome and what would be the variables that would impact that?” Based on that, you’ve laid out your plan of how you can execute. And then you just need to go do it because you can’t figure everything out. However, actually a biased reaction is very important and excellence in execution is critical.
EM: How have you been able to find joy in your personal journey?
KT: Your business ebbs and flows and at each stage you have to completely transform yourself into somebody different into what your business needs. And the nice part of that is it also creates space for to say, “Oh great, I’ve done all of this, I’ve proven myself. I’ve done all this. It’s time for me to step back and it’s time for me to have a life.”