Rethinking from the Ground Up

At CTIC’s Healthcare Investment Summit this week in San Francisco, Hemant Taneja, of General Catalyst Partners, led a discussion with Elad Gil, Color Genomics CEO, on Precision Medicine.

Color Genomics is a Silicon Valley startup which seeks to disrupt the health care market by “democratizing” genomic testing. Their product, at $249, is priced to leapfrog insurance barriers and bring DNA testing of 30 common genetic cancers directly to the masses.

Hemant Tajeda, who has 5 degrees from MIT, is a Managing Partner at General Catalyst, a venture capital firm “backing exceptional entrepreneurs”, which celebrates and supports companies which “blaze trails” and “push the realm of possibility”.

The discussion turned to digital health records, an area which has been beset by problems and is still woefully underdeveloped.

And yet, Hemant pointed out, this presents an opportunity to “rethink from the ground up”. To rethink the process, our assumptions, the basic components of the business or industry.

“Health care is the only industry where new technologies drive costs up rather than down, ” Hemant observed. In order to realize the promise of new technologies to improve human lives on a large scale, this necessarily must change in most fundamental ways.

A similar idea was put forth by Ramayya Krishnan, during a panel discussion on Smart Cities, Smart States, Smart Mobility at CES last week. Dr. Krishnan, who is the Dean of Heinz College and a Professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out that the greatest opportunity we face now is to rethink the way we’ve been doing things. When we begin to rethink transportation, we can start to rethink the basic building blocks of how our lives are structured. Take education, for example. Dr. Krishnan suggested that instead of busing kids to schools, we can rethink schools as micro schools., with smaller groups visiting museums, moving around in pods, or having teachers come to them.

This is important at a macro level, as technology and society advance, and also important at the individual, company and industry level.

Remember when every airline used The Cart? Airline service professionals pushed a big heavy cart down the airplane’s narrow aisle to server drinks and snacks. This blocked the aisle, and led to a feeling of depersonalized standardization. It was about managing the cart, not servicing the customers.

Then JetBlue turned this model on their head, by doing away with The Cart. Friendly JetBlue people came down the aisle, looked you in the eye, and then brought you your drink. No heavy carts. A small shift, which surely led to cost savings (no heavy carts, right?), no blocked aisles, and an enhanced feeling of customer well-being.

Every airline used The Cart, because it was just always done that way. But what if it you could rethink it?

One of my favorite people is a 4-year-old girl named Zeesy. In school one day, Zeesy’s class made a mini dining room. A table, a table cloth, miniature bread, plates, cups, a flower vase. A tiny flower to go in the vase.

Zeesy brought the diorama home, and began to play. The cups and plates came off the table. The flower came out of the vase, and the vase went upside down. The tablecloth was rolled up and snaked around and across the table.

Zeesy is a master of creative destruction. She is not limited by our way of doing things, our narrow definitions and expectations; a tablecloth goes on the table, the flower goes in the vase.

How can we take the elements of how our business is run, how it’s has always been done, and turn these components upside down for a new purpose, a new workflow, a new model? How can we undo the way it’s always been done? How can we rethink things from the beginning?

How can we be more like Zeesy?

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