Tag Archives: innovation

These amazing times and their cost

I fought my way through Friday night traffic to see my friend Shiva’s daughter perform in their Christmas play, “A Play in a Manger.”  I expected Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds.  What I saw was an hour-long rock-and-roll production built around a plot line of “bigger is not better.”  Mary and Joseph were supplanted by a production manager and a worried production crew and cast, some 20 kids in all.

Everybody got a speaking part, reaching up to the standing microphones like little gold fish getting their supper.).  Shaylee, whose family is from Iran, added what I learned later was an improvised dance number for her part.  The epilogue was this:  “Christmas is not about Walmart or Saks. ipads or iphones.”  That is, it’s not about stuff, because stuff costs a lot of money.

I thought about this when I stopped into my local Wal-Mart for socks and was astounded to find all of the cashiers were gone, erased.  In their place were scanners, waiting for a credit (or debit) card. When I asked the attendant where those workers — mostly women, mostly African-American, mostly over 40 — I got a shrug.

According Fortune, citing a McKinsey Global Institute report released in November, “between 400 million and 800 million workers around the world could be displaced by automation by 2030.”  By comparison, the 2016 population of Texas was 27.36 million.  Think about that — that’s 15 Texas’.

Most affected will be jobs that involve collecting and processing data – everything from accounting to fast food.  The report predicts the pace of displacement will be unprecedented, concluding  “There are few precedents in which societies have successfully retrained such large numbers of people.”

In a recent column, David Brooks had some suggestions for lawmakers to consider, a list that targets practical but oftentimes insurmountable barriers like making it easier for people to:

  • Get to work
  • Get a license
  • Enter fast-growing professions like health care
  • As ex-offenders, navigate the application process

It’s painful to experience the season as one of “haves” and “have nots,”  and easy to turn away we dash through the holiday fully armed.  But here’s hoping each of us has an opportunity to pause and reflect, not just on how very lucky we are, but how we can help those who are less so, navigate these times.

SXSW Interactive: Can design change the way we think about healthcare delivery?

Can we use the creativity and rigors of the design process to change how we deliver health care?  After a week of SXSW Interactive, I’d say yes, it makes sense and certainly couldn’t hurt. After over a decade seeing two parents through the Kafka-esque twists and turns of the health care system, I consider the American approach to delivering medical (and elder-) care on par with Chinese water torture, only more expensive.

Pauline van Dongen's solar-paneled dress prompts us to re-examine why we wear clothing. Why not apply that same thinking to health care?

Pauline van Dongen’s solar-paneled dress prompts us to re-examine why we wear clothing. Why not apply that same thinking to health care?

Here in Austin, The University of Texas announced a radical-sounding partnership between the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas Dept. of Art called The Design Institute for Health. The newly-formed group, led by two veterans from IDEO, the design firm famous for its longstanding relationship with Apple, are part of a push to figure out how to deliver community-based health care funded based on the “value it creates.”  The medical school’s charismatic dean, Dr. Clay Johnston, is inviting hospitals, doctors, nonprofits and the community as a whole to help re-think what the farm animals in the movie “Babe called “the way things are.”  I can’t imagine many things more challenging, or exciting.

If you have any doubts about the mind-unleashing power of design, I refer you to Paola Antonelli’s SXSW keynote, “Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future.”  Antonelli, the curator of architecture for the Museum of Modern Art, guides us through a series of examples of design that provokes us to re-think the “way things are.”  Examples include a belt that simulates menstruation (to, one presumes, produce empathy in the opposite sex) and wearable clothing made with 3D printers that simulates the body’s movement created by Pauline van Dongen, who wore a sweater made of flattened solar cells during her session later that day. Think about it, technology-based clothing that’s comfortable, practical and adaptable.

Design was the subtext of a fascinating but sparsely-attended talk by Eric Topol’s called “Democratizing Health Care.” Here is a doctor, researcher and (I have to assume) AMA member, who understands that people want healthcare to be simple, affordable and effective. After opening his talk by citing medication errors as the fourth cause of death in the United States, Topol showed a portfolio of on-demand tools — a wrist band to detect seizures, an app to measure arrhythmia, or using a smartphone to digitize the heart — technology moving at the pace of Moore’s Law to troubleshoot, coordinate and identify illness — without causing the patient to go broke or die.  I don’t think any of the devices Dr. Topol showed were ready for prime time, but they they — or improved versions — will be, and they will advance the revolution.

Why not?  If we can cast off stilettos and create sympathy for PMS, why not re-think health care as a human service for real people?

Sotomayor and Chaotic Moon – stay curious, take risks and get better

Two fascinating encounters this week.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in town to promote her book.  By the time I got there, the crowd spilled out of the second-floor room where she was to appear, down the stairs and into the aisles of books.  All ages – moms with kids, octogenarians (holding hands), students scribbling notes.  We all pressed together – holding our breaths so we could hear.  And yes, she was wonderful.

Sonia Sotomayor visits Austin.  Photo by Pearce Murphy, The Daily Texan.

Sonia Sotomayor visits Austin. Photo by Pearce Murphy, The Daily Texan.

It was inspiring — the crowd, the diversity, the speaker, the very American-ness of it all.  Coming on the heels of the inauguration and Martin Luther King Day, even the cynics among us had to take a breath.

Sotomayor closed with a grace note of thanks to her audience, but also a warning:  Beware of false pride, she said. It stops the learning experience. I never thought I would be on the best seller list, she continued.  But here I am.

A second wake up call — a rambunctious presentation by the irrepressible Whurley of Chaotic Moon  — advocated the gospel of creative risk taking:  instigate, collaborate and innovate. It was a fun, uppity, polished pitch that challenged us to “just do it” and a testimony to cross-generation collaboration.  You need both the gas pedal and the brakes.

Chaotic Moon is pushing the boundaries of the creative “why not,” energizing the innovation efforts of companies like Toyota and Samsung.  Sitting in the audience, I was in awe: What a shot-in-the arm their thinking must be to the research and marketing teams of those huge public multi-nationals.

Side note:  Whurley differentiated innovation (it’s easy or we don’t do it) and invention (it’s hard), which reminded me of the brilliant Clayton Christensen column from last fall, “A Capitalist’s Dilemma” that made a similar point in relation to job creation.

The connection?  Curiosity and action. Sotomayor did not get to the Supreme Court just by acing her tests (though I’m sure that was part of it).  She reinvented herself over and over again.  She made consistent efforts to create a smarter, more broadly experienced and emotionally mature human being.  She took dancing lessons at 50+ (I tell you, there’s something about those dancing lessons).

Two vivid reminders to continue to try, experiment, expand — radically — and get better.

I don’t wanna …

A colleague mentioned that he couldn’t wait until February when everyone’s New Year’s resolutions pooped out, so he could get in and out of the gym faster.  I had a sudden vivid memory of waiting in line for a swim lane at the YMCA at 5:30 a.m. in January, shivering my skimpy Speedo and as the minutes ticked by, calculating how long it would take for a slot to open up.

So what happens in February?  “I don’t wanna” outweighs “I’m gonna.”

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything worth talking about that didn’t start with “I don’t wanna  …”  So many excuses, so little time:  I’m afraid I’ll fail; it takes too much time and energy; the traffic is bad; I didn’t know anybody there(!).

It's 9 a.m. and you're still in bed?

It’s 9 a.m. and you’re still in bed?

There are people who are smart, gutsy, competent and land in just the right place at just the right time — taking a job just as a company starts its climb back to the top, starting a company just before the market takes off.

But if I dig a bit, those people are disciplined and driven. They have a goal, and they’re committed to achieving it.  They are not whiners. They make choices and act. Sometimes they fail.  Can anyone imagine anyone more prolific than Seth Godin and his spare wisdom?   Or locally, Maura Thomas‘ disciplined hashmarks, Marc Miller’s prolific Career Pivot posts, and Pike Powers’ iconic pike-o-grams?

So, I’m raising one last glass to 2013 and (slightly) revising the iconic Nike slogan:  “If it gets you  closer to your goal, just do it.”

Get on with it!

3 easy steps to cultivating your sense of the ridiculous

Okay, I’ve had it.  Fiscal cliffs, elected officials, desertification, homelessness, elephant poachers, capital gains, women’s health funds, underfunded public education, elected officials, dying newspapers, Lance Armstrong, Mopac at 5 o’clock, aging, abandoned children, cats and dogs.  It’s all too much.  Time for some silliness (if the aforementioned wasn’t the right kind).

Do the following at critical junctures of your day, while reading email, talking on the phone – or my personal favorite – after I’ve done something particularly stupid.  It costs nothing, never fails to provide perspective and can be used at home, in the office, car or plane.

You’ll find this trick rarely fails to make you feel absolutely ridiculous — which for some reason opens a world of boundless possibilities.  Here goes:

(1).  If you know a basic swing dance step, skip to the next paragraph.  If not do the following:

  • Stand feet together
  • Lift one foot (ladies, your right; gentlemen, your left).  Put it back down.  That’s Tap-Step.
  • Other foot:  Tap, Step.
  • First foot:  Step backwards and then bring the foot back in place.  That’s Rock Behind.
  • So, that’s the basic swing:  1st foot – Tap.Step.  2nd foot: Tap.Step.  First foot:  Rock Behind.

(2).  When you’re comfortable with the basic step, add a simple variation, a turn:

  • 1st foot: Tap. Step.
  • 2nd foot:  Tap. Step.
  • 1st foot:  Rock Behind BUT as you bring your foot back into place, place it perpendicular to the other foot, pivoting 1/4 turn away from your 2nd foot.  Bring the foot down in a step to pivot back around and face your (virtual partner).

(3).  Now, add music.  I prefer The Jingle Bell Rock.  It is faster-acting than other options I’ve tried, particular when it’s not December.

The Chipmunks do a fine rendition of  the classic "Jingle Bell Rock."

The Chipmunks do a fine rendition of the classic “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Use this tool with a music-playing device, device-less or device-free, depending on your attitude.  You can sing to accompany yourself.  Here are the lyrics.  Learning them also helps with memory loss.  I’m not sure about hair or weight loss, but could it hurt?

My January IP to you:  Silliness.  We’re going to need it.

p.s.  Here’s the swing in action, but caution:  Don’t allow yourself to be put in a mold. It’s the spirit of the thing.  Innovate.

A battle cry of innovation

I’ve found my battle cry for 2013: a quote from Georgia O’Keefe (who died at 98 in 1986) that’s tailor-made for a world where best laid plans collide with black swans:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © www.arttoday.com

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © http://www.arttoday.com

The quote suggests that O’Keefe rarely operated in her comfort zone.  I looked through a big book of her paintings I bought when I was in college.  Each picture is distinctly O’Keefe’s:  giant flowers, towering landscapes, skyscrapers.  But she somehow struggled to stay raw and alert, testing her premise and refining her distinctive style.  She figured out how to get better and better.

It’s really hard not to want to be comfortable, to respond in the same way, go to the same restaurants  see the same people, walk the dog on the same safe street.  But even if that were possible, it’s not the way I want my obituary written.  So I’m trying to make experimentation a habit. The bugaboo is that it it’s neither quick nor easy.  I have to let myself block out the time, fail and get better.

At the organizational level, this process is called innovation.  Companies and institutions pursue research and development in-house, by participating in incubators (a future post on this intriguing area), through partnerships, strategic alliances and spin offs   None of these routes is fool-proof, far from it. Sometimes they work; other times they don’t. It’s all about changing for the better.  I mean, who would have thought the local toll road would be doing radio spots, the post office would  partner with the grocery store and PayPal, and tiny cars could be rented on the street?

Scary stuff, but oh so necessary.

Thinking in a different way

Now I get it.  It’s about thinking differently to tackle big problems like cancer, climate change, floods, droughts, hunger, pandemics.  Last week’s Austin Forum showcased the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the University of Texas System’s mind-boggling infrastructure.  But it wasn’t until a week later, when I listened to Open Stack’s Jonathan Bryce talk about the cloud that it all fell into place.

Armed with horsepower provided by TACC and UT, M.D. Anderson researchers can see results in one-third to one-half the time of earlier efforts.  Visualization  overcomes the communication tangles that get in the way of so much sharing.  Results can be studied and compared in real time (a picture’s worth …).

Think about it.  TACC, with its 10-petaflop supercomputer and super-charged network, can help researchers solve problems in days or even hours that used to take weeks or months.  Armed with faster answers, the researchers ask more questions.  They collaborate more.  They ask different questions and expand the circle of collaboration.  More minds, more perspectives, more questions. Perhaps the initial problem morphs into several smaller ones.  Perhaps one or more of these is easier to solve.

A high point:  A self-described hacker asked if he could pitch in. TACC Director Jay Boisseau responded that yes, there would be collaborative opportunities, individual as well as the collective ones provided by a research park. That’s encouraging news in a world that needs some brain power focused on things that matter.  Perhaps future sessions will touch on the process of developing a smart set metrics to guide all of this collaboration.

In the meantime, let’s work on that fiscal cliff.