Innovate by Re-Imagining

There are three ways to come up with a disruptive innovation.  If you are taking on an existing product or service in head-to-head competition, you need a 10X performance improvement.  If you are a small firm taking on a big one, you need to change the rules of competition with business model innovation.  The third way to develop a disruptive innovation is to re-imagine.

There is a great example of this in this talk by David Kelley:

He tells the story of Doug Dietz, an MRI engineer for GE Healthcare.  Kelley tells the story as well in his new book Creative Confidence, written with his brother Tom.  The story is excerpted here on Slate too.

Dietz was shocked one day when he saw a girl in a hospital crying uncontrollably while waiting for an MRI.  She was terrified of the machine.  After asking some questions, Dietz discovered that around 80% of paediatric patients required sedation in order to have an MRI done.  Dietz found this deeply disturbing.

He was doing the design thinking program at Stanford’s d.school at the time, and he decided to redesign the process from the children’s perspective.  The Kelley brothers describe the outcome:

By thinking holistically about how children experienced and interacted with the technology, Doug helped transform the MRI suite into a kid’s adventure story, with the patient in a starring role. Making no changes to the complex technology inside the scanner, Doug and his ad hoc team applied colorful decals to the outside of the machine and to every surface in the room, covering the floor, ceilings, walls, and all of the equipment. They also created a script for machine operators so they could lead their young patients through the adventure.

One of the prototypes is a pirate ship worthy of an amusement park ride. The ship comes complete with a big wooden captain’s wheel that surrounds the round opening of the chamber—a sea-faring detail that also makes the small circumference seem less claustrophobic. The operator tells kids that they will be sailing inside the pirate ship and they have to stay completely still while on the boat. After their “voyage,” they get to pick a small treasure from the pirate’s chest on the other side of the room. In another story, the MRI is a cylindrical spaceship transporting the patient into a space adventure. Just before the whirring and banging of the machine gets louder, the operator encourages young patients to listen closely for the moment that the craft “shifts into hyper-drive.” This reframing transforms a normally terrifying “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM” sound into just another part of the adventure. Including the pirate experience and the rocket ship, there are now nine different “adventures.”

Pirate Scanner

We watched David’s talk in my executive education class today, and one of the participants has done a great deal of MRI research.  He said that all of the MRI manufacturers had been competing by trying to reduce the noise, and make the process quicker.  The results are that instead of being “bloody loud” to just “loud”, and the time was reduced from 30 minutes to 20.

It took a great deal of research effort to achieve this.  But it doesn’t make the machine any less terrifying for children.  The breakthrough innovation came through re-imagining the experience.

Ralph Ohr describes this as the outcome of design thinking.  Re-imagining is how we change the meaning of something – this is how we jump from one competitive hill to a new one.  Doing this requires empathy.

You can’t do this through focus groups.  If you had asked the kids what they wanted, the only answer they’d be able to give would be “don’t make me go in the machine.”  The idea of turning the machine into an adventure only comes through understanding why the kids are scared, and then thinking creatively about what might alleviate that fear.

Like business model innovation, this is another way of changing the basis of competition.  Instead of competing on reduced noise and time, GE Healthcare ended up competing in a completely new arena – reducing the costs and time taken sedating the children – with the new design, the number that required sedation fell below 10%.

How might you re-imagine competition in your industry?  It’s a question worth thinking about.

 

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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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