Creative questions tackling COVID-19

Abby Taylor 1
Article by: Abby Taylor
Creative questions tackling COVID-19

I joined the THNK Executive Leadership Program in September 2019 so my third module was in January, just as the world was starting to sit up and take notice of this unknown disease spreading in China. My last module was at the start of March – days before the world, or many countries at least, started to shut down.


I work for the Wellcome Trust in London. Wellcome is the world’s second-largest independent charitable foundation and our main work is focussed on supporting research to improve health. We fund and do an enormous amount of work in and around infectious disease and so when COVID-19 was first identified in late 2019 (the name came a little later), we were very concerned.


Since then, I’ve gradually become more involved in our response to it – thinking about how we might best use our funding, what we want to put our voice to and action we are calling for. But in the last seven days, I’ve really been thrown into the effort, working closely with the UK Government and several other national bodies to establish a system in the UK so we can understand what is happening.


There are plenty of articles (of varying accuracy) about what these national testing programmes entail, but for fellow and future THNKers, I wanted to share the inspiration, ideas and “oh yeah!” moments of my last seven days.

tackling COVID-19
'I don’t think I could have made anything close to the difference I have made in the world in the last seven days without the tools that THNK has given me.' – #THNKer Abby Taylor on how she's applying THNK tools to tackle #covid19 Click To Tweet

Creative questions help you to find your way out of a corner.

When I picked up my part of this programme, it felt like there were problems in every direction. Tests were still being developed. Precious blood samples were needed but hard to get. Everyone was getting sick and supposed to stay at home. I stopped us and decided to ask, “How might we…?” At THNK, they called this your “Creative Question.” It’s a simple, beautiful way to help everyone step back, look at the challenge afresh, and more importantly, check we all think it’s the same challenge and have different conversations.

My Creative Question is a bit of a technical one: How might we understand what percentage, location, and age of the population have detectable antibodies specific to COVID-19 in their blood? This is vital to helping understand what percentage of the population has been infected in the past, how that changes in different locations and ages over time, if immunity is maintained over time, and if it protects against reinfection in the future.

This question helped us to then find…

Unexpected allies who make it feel easy.

I have to admit, at THNK I loved the creative question. I was a convert and had been using it since Module 1. Unexpected allies were fun but unrealistic – how wrong COVID-19 has proven us: Gin distilleries making and giving away litres of hand sanitiser, hotels giving their rooms over as hospital rooms, and in my case, blood donation services collecting their residual blood samples to send for extra testing to generate vital data that helps us to understand the levels of past infection around the country.

And more than anything…

The Cynefin framework – the one that tells you that chaos needs the military but complex systems need us.

THNKers: Creative leaders who have energy, passion, compassion and want to collaborate in a way that gets the best from everyone. I don’t think I could have made anything close to the difference I have made in the world in the last seven days without the tools that THNK has given me.

Big picture: The THNK Faculty and my Class 16 classmates (including our lovely time travellers, THNKers who participate in different classes) have helped us all. Soon, we’ll start to get the data we need to better understand this outbreak and to inform the UK (and other countries’) Government’s policy decisions about how to respond to COVID-19. What a team.

Abby is one of the hundreds of inspiring leaders who participated in the THNK Executive Leadership Program.

To discover the tools and mindsets needed to lead in uncertainty, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.