Sep 28 Making Sense of Complexity at Transform 2016

Earlier this month, I attended Transform 2016, an annual conference hosted by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, which we make sure not to miss. I walked away with tons of notes and inspiration, but also in a more contemplative mood than expected. Having taken a couple of days to let it all sink in, here are my main takeaways:

// There’s a growing number of design thinking and innovation teams: Most major medical systems I spoke with have or are building a design thinking and innovation team. These are generally well regarded, but a number still seem to be battling the same kind of issues that we often see in our work with questions around team scope and their role in the organization. I believe these organizations would be served well by spending time thinking through the evolution of their design and innovation teams, rather than trying to immediately drive transformational change. Which brings me to my next point:

// Teams FOR innovation: The Transform conference is organized by the Mayo Clinic Center For Innovation. During their opening remarks, they spoke about the philosophical meaning and importance of the word “for” in their title, more specifically their choice to use ‘for’ vs. ‘of’. This is a seemingly small nuance in their name but has a profound impact on what they stand for. The team was clear that their purpose was not to be the single space where innovation happens at Mayo. Instead they focus on driving innovation through 1) Connection – “bringing people together in new ways inside and outside of Mayo Clinic,” 2) Design – “identifying opportunities and realize solutions that transform care delivery and experience,” 3) Enabling – “Facilitating and accelerating innovation across Mayo Clinic.” If you run an innovation or design thinking team, ask yourself “Are we a center OF innovation or a center FOR innovation?”

// The truth about the reality of change: Change is hard, and it was palpable at Transform. Many of the participants are working to make both incremental and transformational change in healthcare and the progress they have to show for it has been slow. This was a marked change since the first Transform I attended a couple of years ago, the tone of which was far more optimistic.

// It’s a systems problem: At the same time, one of the quotes that stuck with me was this: “We are not going to iterate our way out of the healthcare problem. There are more foundational structural issues that require a rethinking of the entire system that delivers care”. This sentiment was indicative of a larger theme at Transform, the idea that the incentives structures and system level interactions are so fundamentally flawed that solutions must be approached with a more holistic mindset and require a better way of coordinating across multiple stakeholders and organizations. This seems like yet another example of where the tools of Service Design can help bring the Design Thinking to the Design Doing. Service Design is well positioned to help as its toolbox is intended to handle complex experiences, deliver over many touchpoints, and involve a large number of stakeholders.

// The importance of individual personal connection: In design circles, we all recognize the power of empathy and contextual understanding in helping define and solve problems. This was a focal point in many conversations and presentations at Transform this year. Although not a new theme, this challenge has become even more pressing as population health management continues to rely on physicians and their ability to connect with individual patients at a meaningful level. A great example of someone tackling this issue head-on is Mt. Sinai Health System. They have assembled an impressive group of Primary Care Physicians, Systems Engineers, Designers, Health Coaches, and Social Entrepreneurs to rethink how primary care is delivered in their area. Early metrics show their multi-disciplinary systems approach is delivering promising results.

Despite hearing about the many challenges facing those attempting significant change, the Transform conference gave me a renewed hope that we’re finally at a point where we’re truly starting to tackle some of the gnarliest and most complex problems healthcare has to offer. It’s the solutions that emerge from this work, using tools like service design, systems engineering, and behavioral design that will make the biggest impact.

If you would like to share thoughts or would like to get in touch, please email me at  Photograph: Transform 2016

Taylor Larson
Taylor Larson

Director of Strategy and Behavioral Design