Creating Your Mission in Health IT Can Lead to Unanticipated Consequences

The title sounds all sunshine and daffodils, doesn’t it? Create your mission in health IT, how cute. But let’s deal with reality: very few people in health IT have the ability to introduce the sunny concept of a mission into their work lives.

First, what exactly is a health IT mission? That largely depends on your role. Take an interface analyst or the CIO of health system for example. A likely mission would be, “Make my organization the most connected and interoperable healthcare organization in the region.” More sunshine and daffodils, you say? Not necessarily.

Defining huge, career-defining goals gives you an important cause. It makes your job bigger than the small, perhaps mundane and easily achievable tasks you fill a majority of your time completing. However, according to author Cal Newport, creating a career mission is something that’s possible only after you have the work experience, knowledge and reputation — “career capital” as he calls it — to provide you with the proper insight to choose a mission that aligns with the possibilities afforded by your skillset.

According to Newport in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” there are requirements prior to developing a successful career mission:

“You can’t skip straight into a mission without first developing mastery in your field. …The best ideas for mission are found in the adjacent possible and the region just beyond the current cutting edge. To encounter these ideas, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge, which, in turn, requires expertise. To try to devise a mission when you’re new to a field and lacking any career capital is a venture bound for failure.

“Once you identify a specific mission, however, you’re still tasked with launching specific projects to make it succeed. An effective strategy for accomplishing this task is to try small steps that generate concrete feedback, ‘little bets,’ and then use this feedback, be it good or bad, to help figure out what to try next. This systematic exploration might help you find a way forward that you might not otherwise have noticed.”

Newport’s views on mission, in my opinion, are particularly applicable with health IT because the field also meets the basic economic concept of supply and demand. Health IT skills and experience are rare and overall unique in information technology. There are few qualified candidates for open positions because one can claim to be experienced in health IT only after years of specialized on-the-job training and time spent learning the important details. Once health IT professionals have real-world experience, they are in a unique position of career control that allows them to create a remarkable mission that benefits patients and the overall healthcare community.