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Lost in translation

In his latest blog post, our Enterprise Director Lars Sundstrom reflects on the need for AHSNs to be multilingual.

When I first joined the AHSN three and a half years ago from my previous job at the University of Bristol, one of my esteemed colleagues at the time said I was crazy.

“Don’t go there,” he said. “I’m warning you as friend. People in NHS land speak a different language. They aren’t like us. You really won’t like it there, trust me.”

After being there a week I understood that he was probably right. I had no idea what my colleagues were on about in meetings and they soon got very fed up of me asking the same question, “Why are you doing it like that?”

I had to undergo an induction the following week. I had visions of magnets and coils but instead I was introduced to the patient safety lead.

“What’s patient safety?” I asked. “Is that something to do with making hospitals safe?” She smiled at me and said,  “Well it can be but it’s really about reducing variability across service providers.” I was none the wiser.

Then I was introduced to the improvement lead. “Hi, what do you do then?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “We apply quality improvement support working in the local workforce to ensure they have appropriate skills to spread best practice.”  “Geez, sounds complicated,” was the only thing I could think of to say.

I feel like I’ve landed on Mars among a bunch of aliens! I have no clue what you guys are talking about in our team meetings.

After my first month our MD called me into her office for a chat. “How are you finding it?” she asked.

“Well, I feel like I’ve landed on Mars among a bunch of aliens! I have no clue what you guys are talking about in our team meetings.” “Don’t worry,” she said, “You’ll soon pick it up.”

I wasn’t so sure. However I was clearly amongst a new tribe of very bright and talented individuals with a passion for what they were doing, so I thought to myself, “Wow, this is great. I have so much to learn.”

“So, tell me about your plans for the wealth creation remit of our AHSN license,” our MD asked. Now, this I understood so I launched into my thoughts about translational medicine and the importance of building trusted partnerships to achieve effective co-creation in an open innovation environment, while encouraging horizontal innovation from multiple sectors and especially the importance of achieving joint value creation rather than operating merely in transactional mode with the private sector.

“Interesting,” she replied, looking at me with an air somewhere between bemusement and intrigue. “So what exactly does that mean then?”

Last week we had our third annual conference on the topic of innovation for sustainability and transformation. This morning I was having breakfast with one of our newest recruits; a bright young chap from a corporate finance background.

“So James, what did you think of the event last week?” I asked.

“Well,” he said tucking into a bacon sandwich, “Honestly, I was totally lost most of the time, didn’t understand what was going on. It’s a different world, clearly.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “You’ll soon pick it up.”

Between bites he then added, “Well actually, the only bit I really got was when our MD spoke about how adopting open innovation and co-creating value leads to cost savings and the importance of partnerships across multiple stakeholders. What’s all this sustainability and transformation stuff all about anyway?”

“Well,” I said, “It’s the local road maps for delivery of the five year forward view.”

“Hmmm,” he said, and I could see from his expression he was none the wiser.

We are what you might call an eclectic mix and what I am looking for most is people who can bring their own perspective on what we do and are not afraid to question what we are doing.

So I realised that our AHSN has now become truly multilingual. I understand NHS speak, though my accent is apparently still a bit rough, and my colleagues now also speak a very different language too.

I have always tried as far as I can to hire people to our team that are as different to me as I can possibly find. We have people from many backgrounds: education, finance, health and government.  We are what you might call an eclectic mix and what I am looking for most is people who can bring their own perspective on what we do and are not afraid to question what we are doing.

The point is diversity of thought; the ability to see things in a different way. Feeling empowered to question the status quo and feeling empowered to do something about it is what really matters if you want to achieve truly sustainable transformation.

As a famous person once said, “We will not solve the problems we have by applying the same thinking that created them in the first place.”


Posted on October 17, 2016 by Lars Sundstrom, Director of Enterprise, West of England AHSN

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