Nick Dawson is the Director Community Engagement at Bon Secours Virginia Health System. He is also an advisory board member to Medicine X and sits on the Medicine X ePatient advisory panel.
Nick is a passionate advocate of the patient voice. We are excited to have Nick as a guest-contributor to our Medicine X Blog.
Pick a classic rock band. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’re thinking of The Rolling Stones aren’t you? No? Well you are now. When we think about band like the Stones, we often describe them as iconic. The Stones had a unique sound, didn’t they? Seeing them live was a unique experience (or so I’m told). The reality is The Rolling Stones were total copycats.
So why do we love watching Mick strut back and forth singing Honky Tonk Woman? Innovation!
Quite shy, Keith Richards spent his formative years alone, listening to and mimicking American blues and jazz artists. Richards was enamored with Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters (who later become an icon of delta blues). He also had a fondness for rock-n-roll star Chuck Berry. He spotted a guy toting American blues records under his arm, while walking between classes in college, and recognized him as an estranged primary school classmate, Mick Jagger. The two, along with a crew of supporting characters, began booking gigs based on their reputation for covering American R&B tunes. 
When they began to pen original tunes, two of their bandmates quit, in protest over the duo’s love for Chuck Berry’s style. Undaunted, Jagger and Richards focused on incorporating Berry’s love of casual guitar riffs and Chicago blues-style lyrics into everything they wrote. Today, when we listen to classic, defining tunes like Give Me Shelter, what we are really hearing is innovation. 
Jagger and Richards took something existing and built on it to create something new. And that’s what innovation is.
Innovation is about seeing trends and ideas in other spaces and applying your expertise and creativity to them to iterate and create something new. It is a skill which can be learned and cultivated.
Oddly, we rarely see innovation in the process of delivering care. Certainly, there have been advances in medicine, techniques and devices, yet largely the delivery process has remained unchanged. Perhaps that’s because it is easy to confuse innovation with invention. Totally new ideas, the kind which come out of the blue, are lightening strikes compared to the frequent, iterative nature of innovation. For that reason, it is much easier to practice innovation than many suspect. Don’t believe me?
Think of an iconic 21st century consumer electronics design. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’re thinking of the iPod aren’t you? Darn it! Well, you are now. You’re imagining the simple, white, elegant design; totally new, totally unlike other MP3 players with their ugly buttons and clunky shapes. Right?
See the resemblance to Dieter Ram’s design for Braun’s T3 1960’s transistor radio? Here is the essence of innovation. Just like Richards, inspired to noodle bluesy riffs by Chuck Berry, created something iterative and new, Apple’s Jony Ive looked at an elegantly designed radio and thought how does this inspire us? Shameless? Hardly. Steve Jobs often quoted Pablo Picasso, “bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Stanford’s MedX is all about taking a cue from Richards and Apple. Innovation is easy, but it does require practice. Stanford’s MedX conference has an emphasis on inspiring innovation thinking. Michael Graves, renowned architect and designer, will headline the event, discussing his experience as a patient. Graves is outspoken about the need for innovation thinking in delivery of care. Beyond Graves, the entire event will use innovation as a theme to inspire the next iterations on care delivery.
Want to get started practicing innovation? Here’s a simple example:
Think about a company that revolutionized a drink commodity into a retail and lifestyle juggernaut in the last 20 years. Really, I don’t mind waiting. You’re thinking of Starbucks aren’t you? I knew it! We’re together on this, you and me. What are some attributes of the Starbucks model?
- Inviting spaces – ever notice how Starbucks’ shops have big, over-sized, comfy furniture as well as hard surfaces? Sometimes we want to sit and chat. Other times, we need to get work done.
- Rent-a-space – Ever thought of a Starbucks as your out-of-town office when traveling? Wifi, power, a desk…it’s perfect. That cup of coffee you bought effectively paid your rent on the space.
- Adopt-a-style – Like the Starbucks experience? Why not buy a porcelain mug designed after their paper coffee cup? You can also pick up cards with iTunes links to the mellow coffee house vibes they play. Grab a bag of beans and you are on your way to recreating the baristia experience at home. Cha-ching!
Now, think about the process of delivering health care. See any similarities? It’s ok if they don’t jump off the screen. But really think about it. Channel your inner Mick Jagger. What can Starbucks inspire about how we deliver care? Is it a retail model, or branding effort, or customer experience design? What about a new layout for a clinic, or walk in model? I don’t know, but I bet you can pull an Apple and build on Starbucks’ ideas to create something entirely new.
Innovation doesn’t mean creating a new idea from scratch. Rather, innovation is a learnable skill which is all about observing existing trends, ideas, processes and technologies and applying your own iteration on them to create something entirely new. After all, remember what the artist Bansky said:
Rolling Stones Photo credit: Wikipedia.