President's Column: Ruffle Feathers: How to Productively challenge the Status Quo

Oct 14, 2022

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AACN is ruffling feathers in many venues to support nurses. Our core values are at the heart of our work on the issues that matter to nurses. What values will drive you to ruffle some feathers to create change for the better?

What does it mean to “ruffle feathers?” According to, when a person says, “Let’s ruffle some feathers” — as I did during my NTI keynote address where we revealed this year’s theme, Starting Now — it means to challenge the status quo in order to effect change. That’s – importantly – very different from “ruffling someone’s feathers” to annoy or irritate them. Clearly, annoying others is not a reliable path to enacting successful change. Challenging the status quo, on the other hand, often is.

There was a time when now well-known and hugely successful Apple Inc. was on the brink of bankruptcy. IBM computers dominated the market, and most consumers thought of the Macintosh as nothing more than a toy. Steve Jobs, co-founder and then CEO of Apple, in collaboration with others, launched a legendary ad campaign called “Think Different,” aimed at reinvigorating the brand. The cornerstone of the campaign was a 60-second commercial featuring photos of innovative and independent people who have changed the world; Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein to name just a few. Photos of these icons had a voice-over that said:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – From "The Crazy Ones,” TV commercial in Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign.

That ad campaign was completely different from anything else in its day. It helped turn Apple around, won several awards, and laid the foundation for an entire new era of personal computing products that continues today. Apple is famous for saying they “exist to challenge the status quo,” and they did so by challenging the notion of what a computer was, what kind of expertise it should take to use one, and what the user experience should be. The reason the ad worked was that it reflected the company’s core values, and it grabbed people’s attention.

What lessons can we learn from Apple and other status quo challengers as we ruffle some feathers in nursing?

AACN is ruffling feathers in many venues to support you, our community of exceptional nurses. For example, we partnered with other nursing and health organizations to create Partners for Nurse Staffing, which hosted a Think Tank last spring and now a national-level task force. These groups are working in bold partnership to create solutions related to nurse staffing that can make a lasting impact on the healthcare system. We are also creating a transformational approach to evaluating nurse competence based on the Synergy Model to help ensure that a nurse’s knowledge, skills and abilities meet the needs of patients and families. In addition, next year's NTI will continue as a hybrid model where nurses can choose from an in-person experience in Philadelphia or an at-home virtual event, with hundreds of continuing education hours available in either format, and so much more.

As you think about how you might ruffle feathers with the goal of creating necessary change, consider the words of leadership guru Simon Sinek in his book, “Start with Why.” “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Our AACN core values are at the heart of our work on the issues that matter to nurses. What values will drive you to ruffle some feathers to create change for the better?

The other goal of ruffling feathers is to get ourselves and others to think differently. In his book, "Think Again,” Adam Grant offers strategies to help us think differently and to get others to think differently about things that matter. He says that it is perhaps most difficult to think differently about things we tie our identities to. Many of us tie our thoughts about the things that matter to us and our patients to our own identities, because it is difficult to separate who we are from what we do as nurses.

For me, an example of something I have had to challenge my thinking on lately is appropriate staffing. I turned for help to “Think Again,” and it offered the following strategies, among others, that I have found helpful:

  • Detach your present from your past. For me, this means thinking about nurse staffing as it is now and letting go of some of the things I thought were true over the past years of my nursing career.
  • Detach your opinions from your identity. I want to shape my thinking about appropriate staffing on the facts and try to let go of the personal attachment I feel to the problem as a nurse.
  • Think like a scientist. I actively searched for reasons my thinking about appropriate staffing might be wrong and challenged my assumptions.
  • Argue about how and not why. For nurse staffing, this challenged me to take where we are and where we would like to be at face value, and to let go of why we are in the current staffing crisis.

I won’t say that I have it all figured out, but I am excited to think differently about the issues that are challenging our community so we can ruffle the right feathers and generate the changes we need for ourselves and the patients we serve.

I’d love to hear your ideas and learn how you are ruffling feathers and thinking differently in your workplace and your community! Email me at