By Kim Bellard, January 28, 2016
I was all set to write about bacteriophages, then I realized that what appealed to me about them was as an example of attacking mainstream problems with non-mainstream solutions. So I decided to write more generally about how organizations are trying to encourage that.
Let's start with IBM. Big Blue is trying to reinvent itself as a company that uses "design thinking" to develop products and services.
Their design principles emphasize "making users your North Star," using collaborative multidisciplinary teams, "restless reinvention," and a continuous loop of "observe/reflect/make."
So far, about 10,000 employees have gone through the design bootcamp, and around 100 products have been developed using design thinking. Those are drops in the bucket for IBM, but the approach is an audacious and long overdue attempt for IBM to stay relevant in a millennium in which Apple has reminded companies about the importance of design.
Or take Microsoft. If there is any doubt that Microsoft is well on its way to doing things differently, look at the Surface Book or Surface Pro, each of which has won rave reviews. CEO Satya Nadella has been shaking things up ever since he took over two years ago.
One of Mr. Nadella's actions was to break up Microsoft's Research group, which had been kept separate from the day-to-day action. Bloomberg reports that Mr. Nadella has insisted that the research teams work hand-in-hand with the product teams to get new ideas into actual products quicker.
Mr. Nadella has emphasized, "we need to be open to new ideas, and Microsoft Research is where they will come from." This attitude led to Skype Translator becoming an actual product within three months of Mr. Nadella learning about the underlying research.
Venture capitalist Anshu Storm has a theory -- "stack fallacy" -- that he believes explains why so many big companies fail to innovate. The theory posits that many companies suffer from the "mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours."
He cites how Apple has built great devices but also has missed on simple apps, or IBM's classic blindspot about letting Microsoft own the OS layer that ran their PCs.
In his view, "Product management is the art of knowing what to build." The trouble is that too many companies focus on the how and not enough on the "why."
For example, think about hospitals. They're trying hard to position themselves as patient-centered health systems, but no one who has been in a hospital can believe that hospitals see patients as the customer. Hospital gowns? Waking patients up in the middle of the night to take vitals? Corridors upon winding corridors?
We need the health care experience to be less like health care and more like things we actually like. Nick de la Mare suggests that hospitals (and schools) "should be more like theme parks," and that designers should be aiming for "magical experiences."
That's the attitude we need to be taking as we try to innovate; it's not just doing more, but really rethinking the overall consumer experience. I was particularly struck by Mr. de la Mare's caution:
There is cool innovation going on within health care. David Chase, for example, raves about how Zoom+ (which I've written about before) has revamped the ER experience, and there is no shortage of other health care companies hoping to be disruptive (e.g., Becker's list of 30).
There is plenty of incremental innovation going on, and health care sure can use it, but I continue to be on the lookout for breath-taking innovation -- innovations that surprise, excite, and delight.