Dr. John Kenagy Profile

Dr. John Kenagy is a well-respected physician, executive, academic researcher and lecturer with a unique view of healthcare. One summer day in 1992, while climbing a tree with his young son, Dr. Kenagy fell and broke his neck. Spending three months in a halo brace, and three more months disabled and in therapy, opened his eyes to the myriad of issues festering within the healthcare system. What he saw was inspiring and troubling, as dedicated individuals did everything they could for him despite a system that oftentimes got in their way.

Dr. Kenagy made a full recovery, but his view of the system had changed. While continuing his work as a surgeon, he joined the management team of a progressive health system in the Pacific Northwest as Vice President of Business Development. As a clinician, he needed flexibility and resources that his executive half had a hard time providing. As an executive, he found that his managerial efforts were barely making a dent in the problems he faced daily as clinician.

In light of this experience, Dr. Kenagy turned to Harvard University’s Kennedy School for solutions to these rampant problems. As a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School, he studied companies that were able to consistently adapt to change, including Intel, Toyota, IBM and Southwest Airlines. He found several of the common characteristics of those companies, and new ways to apply then to the complex, unpredictable world of the patient. Translating those characteristics to healthcare was the foundation of Adaptive Design, which clears the way for those in management and at the front line of patient care to share a common purpose: getting patients what they need at a lower cost.

Forbes magazine featured Dr. Kenagy as “the man who would save healthcare.” Today, as a lecturer across North America, he dedicates his time to teaching managers and frontline caregivers how to better work together to provide patients with the best level of care. His book, Designed to Adapt: Leading Healthcare in Challenging Times, is a guide for working adaptively. He is the coauthor of several Harvard Business School Teaching Cases, which are used in academia and in many healthcare, technology, and manufacturing companies.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio

    As with so many good stories, this one begins with a fall. In the summer of 1992, while climbing a tree with his young son, Dr. Kenagy fell out of the tree and into a new perspective on healthcare. Suffering from a broken neck, he spent three months in a halo brace and another three disabled and in therapy. This experience showed him the view from the other side of the privacy curtain: as the patient.

    What he saw was inspiring and troubling. He watched as dedicated individuals at all levels of the organization were working diligently to help him, but struggling against a system that often got in their way. He recovered fully, but his view of the system would never be the same.
    While continuing to work as a surgeon, he joined the management team of a progressive health system in the Pacific Northwest as Vice President of Business Development. However, the resources and flexibility he needed as a clinician were a nightmare to him as an executive trying to keep the system afloat. In turn, as a clinician, he found his hard-won efforts as a manager were barely making a dent in problems he faced daily at the front line.

    Puzzled by this experience, he sought new solutions at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School. Studying those few companies able to consistently adapt, such as Intel, Toyota, IBM, and Southwest Airlines, he found common characteristics that could apply to the complex, unpredictable world of the patient. Translating those characteristics to healthcare has led to the revelation of Adaptive Design. Adaptive Design clears the way for those in management and at the front line of patient care to share a common purpose: getting patients exactly what they need at continually lower cost.

    Dr. Kenagy has made Adaptive Design his life’s work. His book, Designed to Adapt: Leading Healthcare in Challenging Times, is a guide to working adaptively. He dedicates his time to teaching managers and frontline caregivers how, working together, they will make a difference. It’s an inspiration and a revelation to see that patients can get exactly what they need at continually lower cost. It’s the way to fix healthcare.

    His contributions have been widely recognized:

      • MD with distinction from the University of Nebraska
      • Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Washington
      • Adjunct Professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, University of Pittsburgh
      • Visiting Scholar, Harvard Business School (1998-2004)
      • Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Business Executive Education and the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative in Healthcare
      • Speaking and consulting engagements throughout the US and in Canada
      • Testimony before the US Senate Commerce Committee
      • Author of Service Quality in Health Care for the Journal of the American Medical Association, named the Best Healthcare Management Article of the Year
      • Co-author with Clayton Christensen of the first article on disruptive innovation in healthcare for the Harvard Business Review
      • Inspired and helped lead the first test of the Toyota Production System in healthcare
      • Coauthored Harvard Business School Teaching Cases that have been taught throughout academia and in many healthcare, technology and manufacturing companies
      • Forbes magazine featured Dr. Kenagy as “the man who would save healthcare.”

Dr. John Kenagy Speaking Videos

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Dr. John Kenagy's Speech Descriptions

Dr. Kenagy is a well respected speaker, who has presented his ideas and opinions to over 200 organizations including Mayo Health System, Harvard University, U.S. Army Medical Command, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and Microsoft. His presentations mostly deal with Adaptive Design, healthcare, and patient care.

Some of his presentation topics are: “Knowing What To Do To Lead in the New World of Healthcare,” “Delivering on the Promise: Getting Patients Exactly What They Need at Continually Lower Cost,” “How To Do What Others Won’t: Sustainable Innovation for 21st Century Healthcare,” and “Exceeding Patient Expectations Using Current Resources—You Can’t Buy Your Future; You Have To Make It.”

Dr. Kenagy has presented his ideas to over 200 organizations, including Mayo Health System, Harvard University, U.S. Army Medical Command, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and Microsoft. Here are some of his most recent presentation topics:

Value-Based Care: Delivering on the Promise

The Promise is more access to better safe care, all at continually lower cost. The good news is most healthcare organizations are already positioned to deliver on the Promise. Three simple, low risk, high reward steps will create a Center of Value and Excellence (CoVE) that will generate more access to better, safer care at continually lower cost in 3-­‐4 months. Once you create a CoVE, you simply replicate and scale what you now know how to do. It’s not rocket science; it’s the science of adaption.

Patient Experience: Partnering to Meet Patient Needs Ideally

Physicians, staff and management partner to meet patient needs ideally when everyone in your organization can work at the “top of their license.” For example, our data show nurses, on average, spend less than 30% of their time in direct patient care. Management, staff and physicians can partner and use Adaptive Design to eliminate the hurdles and barriers that pull everyone away from patients. It's a low risk, high reward opportunity to create a world-­‐class patient experience and continually lower the cost of care.

Sense, Respond, Adapt: Managing the Unpredictable in Real-Time
Healthcare organizations are, by nature, complex, constantly changing and unpredictable. Using conventional data to manage a complex organization is like driving your car by looking at your rear-­‐view mirror. Creating a Sense/Respond/Adapt capability is a simple, safe approach to managing the unpredictable in real-­‐time. It’s action innovation – do it, improve it, then replicate and scale it. The results are more care for less cost and new predictive analytics that can be generated by any healthcare organization.

Adaptive Design: Do and Improve Across the Care Continuum
Adaptive Design is an integrated set of methods, skills and tools that make everyone accountable for patient-­‐centered, care and improvement as part of their everyday work. Unlike Lean, Six Sigma, PDSA and other project-­‐based, process reengineering methods, Adaptive Design is a self-­‐sustaining system for designing, doing and improving complex work within and across disciplines. It is a low risk, high reward way to create horizontal integration across the silos, both inside and outside your organization. It is a simple, safe, value-­‐based Operating System for 21st Century healthcare.

Creating Cultural Chemistry: How to Thrive at the Point-­‐of-­‐Care

You don’t implement a great culture; you make it. This presentation taps into the latest research in human decision-­‐making and the success characteristics of innovative, resilient, highly adaptive companies. Leaders from the C-­‐suite to the frontline will learn how to use Purpose, Prototypes, Progress, Momentum and Mastery to create a world-­‐class culture designed to adapt to meet the value-­‐based care needs of 21st Century healthcare.

Centers of Value and Excellence: CoVE’s and the Future of Healthcare

Being a Center of Excellence is good; but CoE is a product of the 20th Century. Centers of Value and Excellence (CoVE’s) will predictably lead 21st Century healthcare. The good news is that most organizations already have the resources needed to adapt rapidly to create multiple Centers of Value and Excellence. Developed, aligned and supported by wise leadership, front lines trained in Adaptive Design can quickly design and prototype many small, low risk, high reward changes as part of their every day work. The results generate more access, to better, safer care at continually lower cost.

The Adaptive Design Leadership “Advance”

This is not a traditional “retreat;” its an “advance” for governance, leadership, management, physicians and staff that can also include patients and patient advocates.

Unlike most retreats, this advance in not full of speeches and PowerPoint slides. Rather it is a highly, interactive, 3-­‐4 hour, customizable, learning experience solving complex, real-­‐life, real-­‐time healthcare and business problems. The “Advance” is based on Dr. John Kenagy’s research as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School and his experience using Adaptive Design to create Centers of Value and Excellence in healthcare. It is applicable to any complex work environment. For example, Board Members from outside of healthcare will take away learning that applies to their healthcare governance work and their own, non-­‐healthcare businesses.

For example, you will learn what it would be like to work for Steve Jobs. You will discover the secrets of disruptive innovation and how Intel’s Andy Grove changed Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s view of disruptive technology. Or you can find out what would happen if Toyota acquired your hospital and what that would mean for Lean and Performance Excellence in your organization. And, all of these experiences are customized to your specific needs and relate directly to how-­‐to-­‐lead in the value-­‐driven world of 21st Century healthcare. The Outcome: your organization will have what you need to thrive – rapid, low risk and high reward.

Dr. John Kenagy on Speaking

I always customize my presentations to meet the needs of the meeting sponsor. Then, we create specific, measurable objectives based on those needs.

SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn/take away from your presentations?

KENAGY: I always customize my presentations to meet the needs of the meeting sponsor. Then, we create specific, measurable objectives based on those needs. So we use Adaptive Design to design presentations on “Adaptive Design.”

SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

KENAGY: I learn everything I can about the organization and, in particular, seek to identify the problems, barriers and bottlenecks they would like to solve. I also like to find local stories and examples that I can interweave into the talk.

In particular, I’ll explore with the sponsors how we can make the event very interactive – even for large audiences. I don’t want to just talk at people. I want as much interaction as possible. I elicit comments and questions from audiences.. I don’t stand behind a podium. I don’t use notes. If conditions permit and the sponsor approves, I’ll get off the stage and walk out into the audience during the presentation. I have fun speaking and I love feeling the level of engagement rising.

I can also prepare focused workshops for smaller groups after my presentation to allow interested audience members to go deeper.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the extra things you like to do for clients onsite?

KENAGY: If travel permits, I’ll do a book signing and I always go to social hours and try to mix with the audience. I love it when someone new comes up and asks a question or makes a comment.

If an organization is interested in exploring Adaptive Design, we can customize a series of learning experiences over a couple of days that can really make a difference.

SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

KENAGY: It depends completely on the problems we seek to solve; I like a mix–frontline to CEO or Board. It’s important that emerging or promising leaders–even those very low in the hierarchy–are there. It’s also important that those who have P&L responsibility and decision-making capability are in the audience.

The best results occur when emerging junior leaders and their bosses hear the same message together. That can make for a great combination! I also like to do more than just talk. If an organization is interested in exploring Adaptive Design, we can customize a series of learning experiences over a couple of days that can really make a difference.

SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?


a. How to create Leadership, at all levels, that generates new value in complex, dynamic, unpredictable workplaces.

b. How to identify and eliminate the organizational and mindset barriers to innovation that are always present in every established organization.

c. How to Sense, Respond and Adapt customized as a real-time, interactive, learning experiences designed to change deeply, embedded mindsets and help the audience design their path new value.

The best sessions are a keynote followed by a customized, small group workshop with decision makers. The ideas that emerge energize me and I almost always learn something too. I’m in this business to make a difference and when I see it happening, particularly when somebody comes up with an idea I hadn’t thought of, I love it!

SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

KENAGY: I’m a doctor that wants to see healthcare transform to provide more and better care for our patients at continually lower cost. I can’t do that alone. Plus, I enjoy the experience!

SPEAKING.COM: How much do case studies, personal stories and/or humor factor into your keynote speech content?

KENAGY: They are very, very, very important. I commonly tell the story of how I was disabled with a broken neck and show pictures of me as a patient in a cervical halo. I’ll share stories from my and others experiences and I use case studies extensively – many of them I originally wrote for, and were published by, Harvard Business School.

For organizations doing Adaptive Design, I have an adaptive system of seven leadership experiences that I use with the management team to help them discover their role in leading a “sense, respond, adapt” organization. Each of the seven experiences confronts the team with different management problems to solve, and exposes them to world-class, adaptive organizations. I have also customized one or two of the sessions as part of a short leadership program for individual organizations or systems.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes you’ve helped clients make?

KENAGY: Here is a very recent one: I have taught for years in the American College of Surgeons’ Annual Course on Leadership (Surgeons as Leaders: From Operating Room to Boardroom). At the last session, this June in Chicago, I asked the course directors if I could “push the envelope” for participants by focusing on creating new value in healthcare. They said, “Yes.” So, I designed two new sessions as leadership experiences and a third as a workshop.

The result was physicians in two large academic medical centers simultaneously leading a trial of Adaptive Design. Having two physicians, in different organizations, immediately and simultaneously create a new leadership role and start to make a difference was very rewarding. I believe the program and format we tested is a new formula for success in engaging physicians to take a leadership role in the “volume to value” transformation. Exclusive Interview with Dr. John Kenagy
Improving Excellence in Healthcare with Dr. John Kenagy
In this interview Dr. John Kenagy discusses:
  • Adaptive Design.
  • The future of healthcare.
  • Characteristics of successful healthcare organizations.
Read the Full Interview

""Success in 21st century healthcare requires more than excellence, it requires an organization to succeed seeking value rather than volume.""
- Dr. John Kenagy

What People are Saying about Seeing Dr. Speak

Rating Entries

Dr. Kenagy speaks with authority and passion on how to tackle today’s healthcare challenges through Adaptive Design. He has brought his unique experience and knowledge to bear in addressing over 200 organizations. Such diverse groups as Mayo Health System, Harvard University, U.S. Army Medical Command, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and Microsoft have benefited from his insights. Here’s what people are saying about Dr. Kenagy’s presentations.

“Thanks for an inspirational and motivating presentation to our management team and board. We have huge potential for improvement with Adaptive Design and it was very meaningful for our team to hear the story from you. You helped make it ‘come alive’ for us.”
    Rick Seidler, President and CEO, Trinity Regional Health System

“Based on the program evaluations, this will be remembered as one of the most successful events in CHIME’s history! Your keynote presentation was incredibly well received (receiving 94% ‘Top Box’ ratings). Our group was captivated by your insight and the entertaining style with which you delivered your message.”
    Keith Fraidenburg, Vice President, Education & Communications, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives

“I wish my CEO and other members of my executive team could have heard Dr. Kenagy’s excellent presentation.”
    Regional health system executive

“To say that your presentation was a hit is an understatement! In fact several have asked if we could post your slides on our Convocation web site.”
    Director, Conference Planning and Facilitation, large national health system

“…I couldn’t have hoped for better! You were uniformly well received by the group. They found the material stimulating and your presentation highly effective. Some of our toughest critics—both lay and physician—were quite complimentary.”
    Health System CEO comments after board and physician retreat

“Wonderful presentation—many participants wrote about your speech as one of the ‘best things’ about the conference.”
    President, State Nurses Association

“Your remarks were right on target… and our members certainly agree. Terrific session!”
    President, large national hospital association

“Your presentation… captivated our Physician Forum. Physicians who attended your program were highly complimentary of your thought-provoking topic and the expertise with which it was presented.”
    Leadership Liaison/Program Development, State Medical Society

“The best speaker with great practical ideas. Excellent!”
    Keynote audience

“We need more sessions that are this interesting and helpful to me in leading my organization into the future.”
    Keynote audience

“Dr. Kenagy’s presentation fulfilled the title of the conference. Excellent!”
    Regional Blue Cross Blue Shield assembly

Dr. John Kenagy’s clients have included:

Health Systems and Hospitals
Mayo Health Systems; Ascension Health; Allina Hospitals and Clinics, Minneapolis, MN; Centura Health, Denver, CO; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA.

American Hospital Association; Michigan Hospital Association; Ontario Hospital Association; California Medical Association; New Jersey Hospital Association; Health Forum; American Governance and Leadership; American College of Physician Executives; American College of Surgeons; Healthcare Financial Managers Association; Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Canada.

Education and Government
Harvard University; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard Business School; Stanford University; Johns Hopkins; University of Pittsburgh; Office of the President, University of California; University of Toronto; US Army Medical Command; US Senate Commerce Committee.

Microsoft, VHA, Inc., Baxter, Schering-Plough, Blue Cross, Ernest & Young, Center for Corporate Innovation

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Books by Dr. John Kenagy:

Designed to Adapt: Leading Healthcare in Challenging Times
Dr. John Kenagy’s formula for saving healthcare one problem at a time is termed “Adaptive Design,” a set of methods, skills and tools designed to get healthcare back to the ideals of patient care by cultivating adaptability into the everyday work of the organization and its people.

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