Mark Hagland asked me if I would blog about the passing of Steve Jobs and how his genius relates to us working in HCIT. I’m both pleased and honored to do so. Here are my thoughts.
What do the Apple 3, NeXT Computer, and the Newton have in common? They were all ambitious, visionary products for their time that objectively failed, but also set the stage for subsequent, wildly successful products including the iPhone and iPad.
As we consider Steve Jobs' life, the overwhelming lesson I draw is that no matter how clear, compelling and exciting a vision may be, to succeed it requires a lot of patience, hard work, and the ability to survive failure. What made Steve Jobs so clearly effective has direct implications for HCIT. Here's my short list:
1. Have a portfolio of projects; you cannot tell which seeds will succeed and you cannot predict the weather.
We all need to show progress. To do so, we need to have enough alternatives available to effectively determine what technology works in terms of our customers’ needs and wants. The broader your portfolio, the more synergies you create. You can’t hit a homerun every time you step up to the plate, but when you do, your strikeouts are quickly forgotten.
The iPod isn’t just an “ecosystem” of a music player, a music store, an iTunes application, and a wrap-around marketing strategy. It created a halo to also sell computers that simply worked better for creative users, and attracted powerful support from and partnerships with companies such as Disney.
2. Be clear.
There is a tension between brevity and clarity, which is rarely brief! Part of the genius of Steve Jobs was in his dedication to doing the work that created clarity in the form of delivered products and services that have been perceived by consumers as brief and succinct. The words that often describe his results are elegant and well-designed. In contrast, Apple’s competitors often produced technology and support services developed using ill conceived concepts because in many instances they ignored the real needs and wants of end users. In contrast, most of the products Steve Jobs delivered were complete thoughts. How many times have we all witnessed this in HCIT?
3. Think end-to-end, and sweat the details of that end-to-end solution.
Don't compromise your design effort early on. In my experience, my Mac computers were clearly better designed to run cooler, quieter, faster, and more reliably than equivalent PCs I was also using. The differences were objectively in the Mac's favor. There was a vision and leadership difference since the raw materials and general level of talent of the workforces were comparable. This almost always requires an innovative, and possibly narcissistic, CEO, at least in times of rapid change such as what we’re seeing in healthcare.
Healthcare CEOs who understand HCIT and value quality outcomes are, as I’ve observed, always compelling leaders who sponsor and truly respect dedicated, professional people, efficient processes, and clear policies. An easy test is to look at how an organization is approaching problem lists or ICD-10. Is it a casual, tactical approach, or is it an integral part of the long-term strategy for quality care and financial health? A strategic approach to HCIT is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. This takes commitment starting with the CEO – commitment that includes time, talent, investment, and buy in from all stakeholders.
4. Don't be lazy.
We can all be lazy at times. We also all know the right thing to do. This often demands more of us, is at times initially unpopular, and not likely to be as expedient as taking shortcuts. As a concrete example, almost all of us respond more to new emails than we do to our defined priorities. This is a form of laziness, undisciplined behavior. Jobs' deliberateness was an intrinsic part of his success. It is also critical to evolving the technologies that will help to make each of our hospitals and health systems the best on the planet.
5. You cannot do it alone. Choose and invest wisely in your relationships.
Steve Jobs worked successfully for over 30 years with a wide range of very diverse and challenging people. His success can be traced back to the influence, both positive and negative, these people contributed to Apple and his other ventures. Steve Jobs was an innovator who invested in collaboration before single mindedly forging ahead with all the force he could muster. HCIT is in a very similar environment. Work done by vendors in collaboratives, using the contributions provided by cross hospital advisory boards, associations, and through regulatory and standards bodies is more important to achieving our goals than ever before.
6. Understand and serve the consumer . . . and do it sincerely.
Each of Steve Jobs' enterprises clearly invested in trying to understand the end user. The Apple retail store experience provides multiple examples of innovations designed to serve the consumer, from the Genius Bar to the liberal return and service policies, to the broad range of training opportunities, many of which are free and amply staffed.