Viewing entries tagged

Homelessness, and the power of empathy and dignity

West Wing

I’ve been re-watching The West Wing. The first season, in particular, is simply fantastic. There’s an episode called In Excelsis Deo {IMDB Link} where the cantankerous but morally-driven Toby feels compelled to provide a Honor Guard funeral for a homeless vet. I re-watched that episode the other day and it has stuck with me for some reason.

Today, a video is making its way around the internet. It’s from Degage Ministries and features Jim Wolf, a United States Army Veteran. Jim, according to the video, has experienced frequent bouts of homelessness and alcoholism.

The video is simple, compelling and deeply moving.

I like videos like this and Cleveland Clinic’s Empathy video. They help us feel empathy. The video of Jim highlights the importance of dignity. We need these videos as tools. And we’ll continue to need them as long as we marginalize and disenfranchise parts of our society.

I wonder too, is there a place for videos like this in education, healthcare and other places where we serve all parts of society; as a way to remind us of the importance of empathy and dignity?

Help us find the people who took our camera on its own vacation then brought it back

I’ve been skiing since I was 3. If they had made small video cameras in the late 70s and early 80s, I probably would have started making poorly-edited videos then. As it is, we didn’t really get cameras one would want to ski with until about…say…2003?.

The videos got marginally better.

And some tell a story.

I’m rarely in them, because I’m the one holding the camera.

For 13 years, we’ve been taking a guy’s trip. Most of those videos look the same. (Only, we’ve gotten older and slower).

This year, I bought a new camera. Which was billed as the ultimate skiing camera. Stick it to anything…helmet, pole, even your boot. So I did.

It fell off. After some searching, I figured I’d never see it again. Little did I know, my camera was off having its own vacation.

Help me find the this group! In addition to looking like a lot of fun, they took my camera on a fun-packed day, filmed their adventure and —above all —were kind enough to turn it into the lost and found. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

But who where they….?

who were they? from Nick Dawson on Vimeo.

"to feel and be felt" Ze Frank on designing for happiness

I saw a post today on Swiss Miss the great design blog, which made my day. Ze Frank is coming back! And that bit of exciting news reminded me of this gem:

In his 2010 TED talk (warning, some adult language), Ze Frank talks about his experience running a popular blog and a video series. But that doesn’t begin to describe what Ze Frank’s world was. Fans will remember his posts and videos as so much more just than a blog.

Ze Frank’s gift is one of designing for happiness.

In the TED Talk, Frank says the most fundemental thing we can do is to “feel and be felt”. In essence, all of his work was about spinning things - existing works, people’s concerns, negitive emotions - into something positive. His daily video posts were ways to rapid prototype the outcomes of his ideas. If that’s not the essence of experience design, I don’t know what is.

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?'

Elsewhere: breaking up with advertisers (who don't add value)

Elsewhere are a series of shorter posts, linking to (parts of) content on other sites I'm reading. You can find more of my Elsewhere posts here. This video comes from Lee Aase's great SMUG (social media university global) site. In his post, Lee speaks about the value of Facebook's twitter-like @ feature to mention other friends in a post. What caught my eye was this great video from Microsoft (I know, right?). In the video, a consumer breaks up with an advertiser because they don't talk to each other. Pretty effective analogy huh?

Us newfangled social web zealots often talk about the importance of "bringing value" to others via the work we do. We talk about the need for a two-way dialogue. Holding a mirror up to traditional advertising is a nice way of focusing on what that jargon really means. I'm not interested in being advertised to; If you want to influence my consumer habits, you need to bring me value. It doesn't have to be hard.

Today, I tweeted two two companies from whom I ordered Christmas presents. Both flaunt their twitter profiles on their mass emailing and websites. Neither has tweeted more recently than October. I told both how excited I was for their product to arrive. Having that conversation would have been valuable for me - thats all it would take - a simple reply back. Given their twitter history, series of tweets pushing links to their products, I'm not expecting a reply. I am also not surprised that both seem to have given up, probably deciding the platform is ineffective and a waste of efforts.  30 seconds on their part would solidify a relationship with me in a much more meaningful way than the mass-blast email spam I get from them. So which is more effective?

There are countless other examples of bringing value to the relationship including giving creative ideas for using a product, shipping tracking, customer service resolution, etc. In healthcare (hey, its what I know), it is pretty simple. Help connect people to care. That is really all it takes. If you focus on that simple mantra, you are assured of success. Someone needs a doctor? Help them get care. Someone had a customer service issue? Help care for that issue. Share your expertise as a provider, health tips, and cutting edge news. Those things add value and they help people find the right kind of care. By the way, all of those examples require talking to someone rather than pushing ads at them.

So the next time you se and advertisement for something, ask yourself - 'what value are they providing'? Is my day made more productive or otherwise better because your widget now gets out grass stains, gets an estimated 19 MPG, is the lightest beer this side of water or never needs sharpening? But wait, there's more...