Viewing entries tagged

Empathy: a designer’s best trait

The clip above comes from a british series called Blue Peter. Blue Peter is show airing in the UK for school-aged children; its focus is hands-on projects. Imagine Mr. Rogers meets Mr. Wizard.

The rest of the video is worth watching for another reason. Great designers are highly empathetic. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Watch Ive’s expressions as he reviews the designs children sent in to the show. The things he applauds and latches onto give him an emotional reaction. He’s touched by the art in one girl’s drawing and unique shape of a boy’s backpack design.

Its not what you do, its why you do it

My new friend Ashleigh, a branding/experience/design guru, recently shared a concept with me. She told me about the golden circle theory from Simon Sinek. He says: "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Sinek cites Apple as a prime example of the golden circle way of thinking. I'm pretty fond of the little California design company as well. If you've run out of Ambian and read this blog as a substitute before, then you'll know I frequently draw on Apple as a source for inspiration in healthcare innovation.

This isn't a tech blog so I'm not really interested in how many thunderwire ports the new iWidget has and why google's robophone is superior because it has 1.21 gigawatts of magic dust inside. Sinek takes the same approach, focusing on the culture of Apple (and others like the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr). Sinek says most of us, and most companies, think from the outside in. We think about what we do, then how we do it and finally, maybe we get to why we do it. In the video, Sinek argues innovators like Apple reverse the process, they think about why they do what they do and move outward towards what it is that they do.

Sinek says Apple first says 'we exist to think different, to make things better, we are a design company who happens to make easy to use computers.' As consumers we identify first with their core beliefs and secondly with their products. We think 'I like to think outside of the box too!' Apple could innovate, design and produce running shoes and they would probably be equally regarded as innovators in that space. It is not what they do, but how they do it. (I'm practicing, Sinek repeats that line over and over, its and effective technique.) He counters with Dell's attempt at making an MP3 player to compete with the iPod. Consumers reacted by asking ' why would I buy an MP3 player from a computer company?'

An un-named Wall Street analyst quipped General Motors is a "hospital that makes cars on the side." While that quote is clearly drawing attention to the employee benefit structure GM has cited as a source of financial hardship, it is nonetheless poignant. Could anyone say the same thing about a hospital or other provider - that they are something else first and care givers on the side?

I optimistically think most hospitals and providers really are in the business of caring for patients. Find me a provider who doesn't list patient services as the largest source of revenue. A senior hospital executive once told me he liked working in healthcare because you can run a cafeteria one day, be an architect the next and work with doctors on the third day. While I think that kind of diversity excites a lot of people (myself included), those are all things we do, not reasons to do them. I believe most hospitals and providers really have the core beliefe they exist to care for people, to make them well and bring them comfort. So why are we so bad at expressing that as an industry?

I've written about "healthcare highway" before. A stretch of road which had billboards for every major provider in the area. Dan Dunlop regularly posts examples of hospital ads on his great blog. All of these, the print ads, healthcare highway, all talk about what the providers do. Some have the best cyberknife for brain tumor treatment. Others boast their rankings and awards. Others are the fastest. Almost none talk about why they do what they do. There is biology at work too; we can understand the sign that says "top 50 hospital", but we don't have an emotional reaction.

The message to consumers, Sinek says, is filtered through our biology. We are programed to understand the complex ideas and statistics these "what we do" ads throw at us. However, none of them go past our brain's basic stage of reading the words and understanding them. When companies and individuals talk about why they do something we register it differently. It is what we call a "gut reaction." We resonate with beliefs because, for many of us, we believe the same thing.

As always, I'm not sure what the solution is. There are plenty of ads for providers which talk about how much they care. I'm not sure that is the same thing in Sinek's world as talking about what they believe, what drives them to care. Sinek does give credence to the importance of the message in who you hire and how they ultimately help drive those beliefs. That resonates with me.

What do you think? Do you have any examples of healthcare providers who speak and work from the outside in? Are there hospitals who first say "we exist to change the patient experience, and we happen to heal people in the process?" Is the opposite happening? Are consumer's looking at ads featuring healthcare technology and asking 'why would I get care from a technology company?'

What can healthcare learn from Apple?

Subtitled: in which I offend my tech friends, healthcare friends or both
I synergize, it is what I do. (for those of you playing business jargon bingo, drink!) I am also an unapologetic Apple fanboy (for those playing internet buzz word bingo, drink!) I've long thought that Apple makes bold decisions, and, since Steve's return, calculated long range decisions. Yesterday Apple held their "Back to the Mac" event. They unveiled the next iteration of their OS X operating system along with a new Mac Book Air. To the consternation of technocrats, Apple continues to make moves away from traditional computing paradigms (drink) towards something that is more like an appliance. It occurs to me that healthcare in the United States is undergoing similar changes. If that is the case, what can we learn from watching Apple and its consumers?

First a little watered down techie background. Computers have long been the domain of nerds. Hey, I'm a nerd, I can say that. How many people know that person…scratch that…kid in their family who is the computer person? Put your own memory in? Nope, save it for thanksgiving and they'll do it. (Let the record show that I am that person, and actually quite happy with the mantel). Not everyone knows how to open the command line, clear the cache, defrag the hard drive or replace a motherboard. What happens when that window gets minimized to some new place, or you can't find a file? Today's computer-savvy youth have learned an entire skill set and vernacular that is frankly transitional at best.

Apple is moving computing in a new direction. Will it frustrate those of us nerds who actually enjoy changing our digital motor oil? Of course. There will always be people who want to build a RAID 5 array of hard drives. But most people just want the computer to be like an appliance. Turn it on and it works.

Healthcare is not much different. There are those of us who work in the trenches. We understand what payor mix and covered populations are. Should most people really have the words "explanation of benefits" in their vocabulary? Isn't that the IP Address of the healthcare world? Healthcare reform is a great example of this. Ask ten people what is broken with US healthcare and you will get 10 different answers. Ask that same lot what defragging a hard drive means and I'll bet you get an equally ambiguously and unqualified set of responses. Most people can't articulate much about healthcare because we have a convoluted system that is difficult to unravel.

Where is the Apple of healthcare? Where is the App Store that shows us what apps to buy and automatically installs and updates them? Apple have a much lambasted screening process for apps that make it into the iPhone and iPad store. Some call it closed or a dictatorship. Maybe. But my mother can use her iPhone and never calls me with questions like "how do I get this pop-up window off my phone's screen?" In Apple's world, it just works.

We are moving towards a reimbursement model that is focused on wellness and health. Over the next few years, computers will have a lot more in common with a toaster than the huge beige box from yesterday. Healthcare in ten years may look a lot more like a public utility than the what we have today. There are a lot of us who have been ensconced in the existing healthcare world. We're the nerds who like to drop into the terminal and type cp ~/Desktop/blog.txt ~/Volumes/Server/www/post.txt to copy a file. We're the ones who know how to tweak our reimbursement process to get the most out of medicare for an office visit. Yet there is a huge, increasingly vocal majority of the public who are asking: "where is my healthcare app store?"

Is the answer accountable care? Is it a public plan? Is it a public/private split like our school system (and like the Australian health system)? I don't have that answer. I do know that Apple is on to something when they make their devices more layperson friendly. It may frustrate the old guard, but isn't change always painful for those who can't keep up?

And... for a little light humor regarding accountable care: