Archives For health innovation

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A few months ago, I wrote a post about five technologies in need of design makeovers in 2014. I’m happy to report my colleagues at IDEO.org, working with a group of NGOs and health and tech industry collaborators, have taken a shot at redesigning the most newsworthy item on that list, and the one with the worst reputation: drones.

The newly launched Drones for Health site focuses on the positive aspects of the remote aerial devices, asking the question, “How can drones improve global health?”

Rather than creepy privacy invaders or weapons of war, the team (Behrouz Hariri, Adam Reineck, and John Won) saw past the technology’s bad reputation and repositioned drones as “flying helpers,” coming up with scenarios in which unmanned aerial vehicles are uniquely suited to address big global health challenges.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, when the land is impassable, a drone could collect data from the sky; or what if they traveled the last-mile of the transportation infrastructure, delivering life-saving medicine and immunizations to the world’s hardest-to-reach corners?

The team’s vision, along with a set of design guidelines, are meant to inspire potential drone builders to create future flying helpers that look and act more human, contributing to the social good.

I’m inspired by this thoughtful, optimistic approach. In three short months, they were able to transform drones from dreadful to delightful. It made me wonder:

How might we inspire new collaborations and create more human-centered solutions to other maligned technologies like big data or email?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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We say we practice human-centered design at IDEO, but what does that really mean? Our friends at +Acumen and IDEO.org have designed a free online course to answer that question. Open to anyone anywhere in the world—no prior design experience needed— the class is called “Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation.” The goal is to teach budding social entrepreneurs how to develop solutions for those who live in such dire circumstances, they may not know where their next meal will come from.

The team-based, 7-week curriculum was first offered last summer and brought together over 13,000 people from 134 countries. Many inspiring ideas came out of the course, but one in particular caught my attention.

Two groups of staff members from Jacaranda Health in Kenya, which is dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality healthcare to low-income women in East Africa, looked at “barriers to good nutrition” for pregnant women. To better understand the problem, they interviewed people all along the healthy eating chain—pregnant women, farmers, community members, cooks, and food buyers—distilled the information, then brainstormed possible solutions. Then they built prototypes and showed them to patients in their maternity clinic for feedback.

What’s interesting is that even thought the two groups were looking at the same problem—“improve pregnant women’s nutrition”—they came up with very different solutions. One group thought better education was the answer, so they came up with healthy eating do’s and don’ts that they published in a local newspaper and posted in the clinic’s waiting room. The other group felt pregnant women know what to eat, they just don’t have the right resources, so they created a burlap-sack kitchen garden that would grow iron-rich greens in their homes.

Jacarada Health’s commitment to taking a human-centered approach to solving their communities’ maternal-health challenges is impressive and has caught the attention of the Gates Foundation, Heath Enterprise Fund, and others. In about the time it takes to get a passport, you, too, can be introduced to a whole new way to approach the world’s toughest challenges.

Specifically, the social-innovation course will:

  • Teach you human-centered design processes and methods
  • Help you identify patterns and opportunities for concept development
  • Inspire you to approach challenges differently and experience how human-centered design can add a new perspective to your own work
  • Give you hands-on experience speaking to, prototyping for, and testing solutions with potential users.

This year’s registration deadline—March 30—is fast approaching. Time to design a better, more human future together. Sign up now.

 

What challenges will you tackle with your newly acquired design-thinking skills?

 

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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An IDEO researcher practicing “creative listening.”

What would an Argentinian car mechanic know about childbirth? If you’re Jorge Odon, father of five, quite a bit. Or at least enough to design a low-cost, low-tech instrument that could revolutionize how doctors assist mothers during difficult births—and save thousands of babies in countries where conventional, high-tech solutions aren’t available.

Odon, a self-professed tinkerer and inventor, was inspired by an ingenious party trick on how to get a loose cork out of an empty bottle. You tilt the bottle, stuff a plastic bag down the neck and blow into the opening. The bag balloons inside the bottle and wraps itself tightly around the cork. Then you pull it out. If it could work on a cork, Odon thought, maybe the same technique would help make labor easier.

Along with his friend, Carlos Modena, Odon prototyped and iterated on his idea using his daughter’s dolls and jam jars. When they had a working model, they called Dr. Javier Schvartzman at the Center for Medical Education and Clinical Research in Buenos Aires and asked if they could show him their device.

The story could easily have ended here, with the busy medical professional refusing to speak to the mechanic and his friend about birthing instruments instead of tires and struts. But what’s remarkable is that Dr. Schvartzman didn’t turn them away, instead he opened his mind and engaged what I call his “creative listening skills.”

Odon’s prototype was basic—just a proof-of-concept. But Dr. Schvartzman was able to see potential in the idea and imagine how it might be developed into a workable solution. By practicing “creative listening,” he was able to step out of his expertise and identify value in an idea that came from a complete outsider, with the intention of building on it and making it better.

This same skill is key to good improv theater: actors listen to the words of the previous actor and, despite never having heard them before, build on them to continue the narrative. Improvisers call it the “Yes, and” rule.

I’m convinced that creative breakthroughs and innovative solutions require creative listening. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-rare skill in many organizations. In fact, just the opposite happens. When someone shares a “crazy idea,” the instinct is to cite all the reasons why it wouldn’t work—shutting it down with a “No, but” response.

Imagine how much untapped potential could be released into the world if more of us opened our minds—and ears—and responded with a “Yes, and” to wild-eyed outliers like Jorge Ordon.

What idea have you built on recently through creative listening?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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A little empathy goes a long way in an overcrowded emergency room.

You don’t have to be a medical professional to know that affordable healthcare in America is complicated business. The system is so sprawling and intractable, only the biggest and boldest of innovations will make a difference, yet only the tiniest changes seem possible. Coming up with new solutions can feel overwhelming.

That’s why I eagerly accepted an invitation to speak at the recent “Transform2013” conference at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. The Center’s trademark, “Think big. Start Small. Move Fast.” is a powerful call to action. Since the Mayo brothers founded the pioneering medical facility 150 years ago, the Clinic has applied systemic, human-centered thinking to healthcare. Their original—and still relevant—breakthrough was to create an integrated practice where specialists work together in the common interest of their patients. There were many standout presentations at the symposium, but two that really struck me were by Dr. Gary Slutkin and Peter Nicks.

“Vaccinating” Violence
Dr. Slutkin heads up an organization in Chicago called Cure Violence. An epidemiologist by training, Dr. Slutkin believes violence is a public heath issue and should be treated like any other communicable disease. His nonprofit is staffed with “violence interrupters” who isolate “infected” individuals at the source and then “vaccinate” communities. How? By counseling those who have a high-risk of perpetration and changing their behavior. The program has been shown to reduce gun violence by as much as 70 percent, quite an accomplishment. Cure Violence is a great example of “thinking big but acting small”—finding solutions by applying common medical practice to a cultural malaise.

Looking Through the Eyes of Patients
Filmmaker Peter Nicks’ documentary, The Waiting Room, is a heart-wrenching story about a day in life of the crowded emergency room at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. It’s a stark portrait of the toll our healthcare system takes on medical staff and patients—especially those who are uninsured. By humanizing their experience, we gain new insight into how the system could be redesigned. The Waiting Room airs on PBS on October 21. I strongly encourage you to watch it.

While three days in Minnesota isn’t nearly enough time to untangle healthcare’s Gordian knot, I left armed with some ideas—and renewed hope—about the power that small collective action can have on larger-than-life problems.

What challenges have you faced where small changes added up to a solution?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog) 

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Part of maintaining a thriving creative culture is giving people time and permission to play. One of the ways we encourage creative play at IDEO is through Designs On—, a semi-annual internal design challenge started five years ago by my colleague Blaise Bertrand. Each edition of Designs On— centers on a theme ranging from Global Warming to Birth.

Packaging is the central theme of the newly launched fifth edition of Designs On—. In it are 18 unexpected packaging ideas, like a medicine bottle that signals expiration like a rotting banana, and using synthetic biology to sustainably manufacture cups, among many other thought-provoking ideas. Serious, scientific, playful, and emotional, the concepts form a collective portfolio that showcases the creativity of our designers, and acts as inspiration for our current—and future—client work.

We think it’s creative playtime well spent.

What about you? What would you design if time, money, or feasibility weren’t concerns?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)