So much of our days are spent problem-solving. From the large to the small, we jump from challenge to challenge, looking for unique, creative, and innovative solutions to the issue at hand. Problem-solving involves critical thinking, analytical skills, and creativity, all in equal measure. And the answer that seems best at first blush might not hold up to scrutiny as you analyze the potential pitfalls. 
At The Center, we spend a lot of time problem-solving in teams, discussing new programs to support our mission, new revenue streams to support our margin, or ways we can work smarter to combat an ever-growing workload. Years ago, I realized that getting the best potential solution to a challenge is as much a function of the questions you ask yourself as it is the quality of the thinking that goes into the solution. You can spin your wheels for a very long time and get to an answer that, in the end, does little to solve your real problem, if either (a) you’ve been asking yourself the wrong question throughout the process or 
(b) you’ve been solving the wrong problem.
As Winston Churchill said when England was starting to rebuild after the damages of World War II, “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.” He realized that they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a country that represented their values and supported their citizens. 
I recently came across a quote from theoretical physicist John Wheeler. Wheeler, a professor at Princeton University, works in the world of what cannot be seen. He said, “We shape the world by the questions we ask.” In the same way that Churchill realized the importance of architecture to shape the behaviors of individuals and thus society, Wheeler saw that the questions we ask ourselves individually have a direct connection to the quality of the solutions we arrive at—which, in turn, impacts the society we live in collectively.  
As the designers and leaders of the buildings that shape our nation’s future health, we have a responsibility to spend the time it takes to get the questions right. That time spent up front can ensure that we’re using our resources to solve the right problems and not squandering rare opportunities. We’ve entered a conversation that looks at much larger issues than the health of each individual, putting a spotlight on population health. Our community of designers is a vital part of that conversation.
The walls of traditional healthcare settings are continuing to come down and the impact of the built environment is reaching deeper and deeper into our communities. There seems to be a new vitality in healthcare that’s emerging after many years of disruption. I’ve been in meetings recently with senior-level facility executives, all sharing news from their health systems. Unanimously, there was optimism. 
It’s a new world order from a decade ago, but there’s reason to be excited about the future. Resources are available again for new buildings to be designed, new markets are being created as the definition of what exemplifies a healthcare setting continues to expand, and we’re all more resilient now, having weathered a decade of uncertainty. We spent the time educating ourselves, learning how to be more resourceful, and creating deeper relationships with colleagues. As new opportunities arise, we have to resolve to ask ourselves the right questions to build the best possible healthcare system and the buildings that will support it for decades to come. 
Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at