Our Unusual Future
There has never been a greater need to think outside the tiny box we call healthcare than there is now. The biggest idea is that we can leverage the technologies other industries have already mastered and dramatically improve health. This means that the future lies at the intersections of different technologies. Those who will push their comfort zones to learn about new technologies such as machine learning, genetic sequencing, programming, social engagement, 3D printing amongst many others will be the leaders of what is to come.
Exponential Medicine focuses on bringing people from these disciplines together with physicians at the forefront of care delivery. It is there where I had the distinct pleasure of grabbing breakfast with Gautam Gulati. Gautam -or Dr.G – is a globetrotting expert on innovation. While on paper he is typically defined by the two letters that proceed his name “DR”, he is most valued for his diverse (& seemingly random) collage of experiences, interests, & skills spanning across a wide range of industries that have come to represent his signature trademark as being simply ‘unusual’.
Dr. G is the founder of Unusual Inc., a storytelling media expedition celebrating human ingenuity, diversity, & imagination. Most recently, he was the Chief Medical Officer & Head of Product Innovation for Physicians Interactive. He serves as an Adjunct Prof of “Medical Innovation & Entrepreneurship” at John Hopkins University Carey Business School, sits on numerous company boards, & regularly speaks at a variety of events around the world, including TEDxMidAtlantic.
There is a lot to learn about where the world is going from Dr. G, and as we sipped on coffee and ate delicious breakfast treats on a sunny San Diego morning, I had the chance to pick his extremely creative and very (you guessed it) unusual brain.
Dr. Gautam at Exponential Medicine 2015
Omar Shaker : Gautam thanks for being here, so who are these unusual clients and what kind of work do you guys do together?
Gautam Gulati: The unusual suspects I work with are companies that we don’t think primarily of as healthcare companies, but span diverse industries as entertainment, media, hospitality, financial services, telecom and more, that, believe it or not, are going to radically change healthcare.. For many of these executives, I have been their personal advisor, helping them creatively navigate the complexities of healthcare to uncover unique game changing opportunities.
Unusual Inc is an innovation focused media company designed to help leaders generate new perspectives to advance innovation. It consists of a publishing arm that identifies novel market opportunities, an event experience arm (that includes Unusual Intersections) showcasing the stories and perspectives of unusual change agents, and a studio lab designed to incubate new businesses focused on our mission.
OS: Can you elaborate on the purpose and idea behind the Unusual Intersections event?
GG:We focus on trying to uncover what helps individuals transform industries and it is all about how they do it. A common thread with innovators is that it is an art of exposing yourself to things not in your comfort zone. Innovation is really a matter of capturing every possible perspective and then connecting the dots over time.
One inspiring moment actually came from my son. We were driving in the car and he looked at the sun coming in and out between the trees and he goes “Look Daddy, the sun is playing peek-a-boo” and I was like ‘Wow! what an amazing perspective!’. By habit and convenience, we all tend limit ourselves to groupthink and what is most familiar to us. I open myself up to diverse industries which you typically wouldn’t think has any relevance to what we are doing. For example, I go to conferences about retail, transportation, smart cities, education, energy, and much more to get inspired with new ideas and perspectives that I can apply to what I am doing in healthcare. I guess that’s what makes me a bit unusual.
You’d be really surprised by the cross applications between industries. At the end of the day the world is trying to solve very few problems at its core. Although it may seem contrary to our natural assumptions, we can learn a lot about how to build a field of precision medicine, for example, from the ideas developed in the fields of education and hedge funds.
At Unusual Intersections we bring people from different fields and explore how they are solving similar problems, and you’d be surprised what you can apply from education to genomics or from 3D printing to smart cities.
The Unusual Intersections Event in 2015
OS:Very Interesting. What would you say makes a company or individual innovative in practice beyond that inspiration?
GG:Well no one ever said “We reinvented a field by doing the usual things”; but what you see during a transformational paradigm shift, is that innovators tend to do things a bit unusual that are not part of our typical playbook. I’ve been thoroughly studying eras of re-invention and the patterns behind these transformational periods and one of the things I do in my upcoming book, ‘The Unusual Truth’, is to share the innovative stories of these transformational change agents that will help to uncover a new innovative playbook we can all use.
A common pattern amongst these great innovators is that they visualize new technologies in the context of our how we live and experience our daily lives. For example, Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, he understood how to commercialized it that made the light bulb consumable for the masses. Ford did not invent the car but created franchising to spur greater distribution Singers work with the sewing machine was used in the industry 20 years later for mass manufacturing, and Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer but he brought it into our lives in a meaningful way.
If you look at Uber or Airbnb for example, they don’t have any proprietary technology. They have mashed up a bunch of technologies to make sense for an experience about the future self and the context of how we live. They have been particularly brilliant in challenging our existing regulations which have shaped our entire policy about how we regulate hotels and cabs. I see it analogous to what Singer has done with the sewing machine and made it relevant to customers.
OS:Last night after dinner, we had so much fun at the drum circle! One thought that ran through my mind was how all these physicians and engineers challenged their comfort zones by picking up an instrument and together we created this beautiful rhythm. You are a musician yourself, and I was wondering if you see a parallel between music and innovation?
GG:The fundamental thought processes between music and innovation are very similar because they are both about connecting the dots and building on prior pieces of inspiration. Even the greatest musicians such as Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan or the Beatles have adapted their unique sounds by drawing upon inspiration from different kinds of musical genres that preceded them. It doesn’t come from thin air and it’s hard to imagine something that doesn’t already somehow exist. I would argue that the things we often think are unimaginable and everything we see today in Exponential Medicine is built off a spark or inspiration that we have previously been exposed to, consciously or not. Downtempo, electronica and rock and roll are all a cross breed of genres. Even Taylor Swift is a country singer who sings pop!
A younger Gautam hitting the congas “Music works just like innovation” he says.
OS:Another thing you excel at is the art form of inspirational talks. What do you think makes an audience connect and engage to your ideas and stories?
GG:What makes a really good talk is poetic story telling with intention. We are wired to be drawn to personal stories, which is an art form that develops with practice over time. However the question is how do you link the story that you are telling to a clear call to action for the aduience? The way I go about this is by closely observing other speakers, both the good and bad, and seeing what techniques resonate with their audience. I then practice diligently and try to emulate these effective techniques. Everyday, during my morning run, I usually put on a list of talks I want to watch on my phone and study the speakers and format closely. I learn both what to do and as well as what not to do. I also leverage the learnings from my own previous talks to better understand what topics resonate with my audience. This is actually what currently determines what goes into my book, similar to how a comedian goes on a road show to test new material.
OS:Which areas in healthcare excite you the most right now?
GG:Two areas fascinate me: The first is the use of AI in healthcare whether that is to support clinical decision or with predictive analytics. The other one is at the intersection of humans, hardware and software. These two areas, I believe, hold the greatest potential impact, however we are still at an early stage with a long way to go before we see these solutions seeded in our everyday lives.