The 1Q2011 Report: Reflections from the Singapore Fellows
In 1Q2011, the Singapore Fellows hit several major targets, including
– The Cheesecake Factory on University Avenue
– The Texas Roadhouse in Union City
– The Dr. Perkins Breakfast at Buck’s Restaurant in Woodside
Our journey of discovery was not without its challenges, however. In a few words, the Singapore Fellows weigh in on the following mid-year topic.
In one paragraph: what was the most challenging aspect of transitioning from your previous life (engineer, physician, or researcher) to jumping into the Biodesign innovation process?
(In typical fashion, everybody went over the prescribed one paragraph. In our local parlance, this is known as “writing grandmother story”.)
Anthony says…It’s been 3 months since I last touched my scalpel, and I have been often asked by my Singapore surgical colleagues whether I miss the clinical aspect of the work I was doing, or even more, whether taking this year off to concentrate on Biodesign is actually worth the cost. My answer is a definitive “yes”, an affirmation without doubt.
Prior to Stanford, I was practising as a Breast Oncologic Surgeon at the National University Hospital in Singapore. Although I do miss the familiarity of the operating room and the joy of helping my patients, I certainly believe that a year spent learning the Biodesign process is well worth the time. In addition, this process may eventually help me reach out to even more patients than what a single surgeon can do. Also, contrary to popular surgical belief, one year without operating will not render one useless in surgical skills the next year.
My exposure then in Stanford has been outstanding, and a full description would definitely make me run out of superlatives. There have been many key lessons I have learnt that have completely changed the way I look at medical innovation, that it is not technology looking for a purpose, but a need waiting to be discovered. The Bay Area is obviously also the best place in which to actually see and experience how the syllabus being taught is translated into the real world, with no shortage of stories of success. Even in this short time of being here in Stanford, there have already been many whom I met who would be great collaborators in the not too distant future. From very experienced doctors and engineers who are well established in the innovation landscape, having a few companies themselves, to the venture capitalists, everyone is this region seems to be most helpful, happy to give their opinions and critical appraisal freely if only to assist the next big idea mature. I believe it is this wealth of experience and culture and infrastructure which supports innovation that is unique in this area. The course and material can be bundled into a book and taught anywhere in the world, but it is this unique culture and atmosphere that necessitates a first-hand experience.
The Bay Area is also certainly not short of places of interest. From the beaches of Monterey to Carmel, to the snowy mountains up in Tahoe, or the beautiful vineyards in Napa, there is certainly something to suit just about everyone. Now, if only there was a little more free time in this program…
Fiona says…There were several challenges in transitioning from my previous career into my current role. One of the largest challenges I faced was that, having come from a position of leadership in my previous job, I was used to critically evaluating any strategic directions we took
and making or greatly influencing major decisions. Here, having to accept someone else’s approach to doing things was hard for me, especially when I felt there was a better way. Specifically, it was a challenge to choose a path of humility and stay personally invested in a decision I disagreed with, as opposed to privately disowning the decision.Another major transition I had to make was from the clear decision-making hierarchy of a multinationa
l company to a setting where everyone on the team is an equal and there is no one leader. While this may encourage creativity, the danger is no one feels obligated to take the initiative to get something done if nobody else seems worried about it. In various situations in our team, the leadership initiative would shift, sometimes based on nonverbal cues and expectations, and often without any verbal agreements. I learnt that it is very important to define team goals and work on relationships so that everyone understands the shifting roles we each play at various times. Our team is very cohesive and I find I am really enjoying working with them even though this uncertainty is something I have never faced before.
Henry says…The shift of mental posturing from “problem solving” to “problem seeking” is my key refreshing transition. In fact, I acknowledge the latter as one of the pivotal mantra of the Biodesign process.As an attending urologist, this defies my years of surgical training and philosophy. It is not only once that my ingrained clinical instinct has had to be rationally restrained. I welcome this paradigm shift in thinking that will serve me for the years to come.
This fellowship is also an eye-opener to me in medical device development. My robotic device start-up company has had an undulating journey with many potholes. Every single step of the fellowship reveals to me how I can walk or even run better when I start my next journey.
Biodesign lessons have flown in thick and fast. The Design School’s teaching of end-user innovation was an involving experience and knocking money sense into a clinician’s head required some learning for me. Soon, I realized that they went beyond the confines of the classroom as individual comfort zones (professional and personal) were challenged and expanded.
Building a team of top minds from differing fields is similar to learning a new dance sequence together. Its initial few steps can either break or build the dance (team). The constant exploration for its equilibrium (rhythm) is crucial to its advancement. It is comforting to know from our fellowship’s design shrink (Dr Julian Gorodsky) that such collision of ideas (toe stepping) is an essential ingredient to a high performance (dance) team. Although the fellowship has spotlighted its importance, I am confident that this discerning skill set is for my lifelong learning.
These valuable lessons from the early months of the fellowship already excites me and fills me with anticipation of the many more that are to be learnt in the coming months.
Iris says…The lessons from the Biodesign process has definitely changed my paradigm of how I view a problem. The Stanford way of design was to always- “Focus on the need” first, for this will determine your market, your concepts, your business, regulatory, IP and reimbursement strategy. Finding the need involved empathy, which started with clinical immersion. This aspect was familiar to me as a clinical research associate at my previous company, but the lessons learnt at Biodesign over the last 3 months taught me to look at observations differently. Previously, I would reactively think of a solution to make our device better. By doing so, I have already confined my ideas to a incremental solution- and that’s why I would never be able to think out of the box. Just like how asking the right questions will get you the right answers, defining the problem (as we term scoping here) appropriately would help direct your solution. The really tough part, I found, was scoping a need. The rules- it has to be written in such that it is not too broad and not too narrow. The contradiction of not too broad or narrow is in itself, self-explanatory of why scooping is an art and can only be mastered by constant practice. Maybe that’s the reason why we have hundreds and hundreds of needs to scope… and practice.I guess the other transition that I had to make was loosening up and daring to go wild
with ideas during brainstorming. I have the tendency to do a feasibility analysis of an idea almost immediately. Wild ideas get discarded quickly, leaving you with practical solutions that work because… that’s how your competitors have done it! The combination of daring to dream wild and going on to do a quick prototype to prove that it works (and not prove that it does not!) has been a valuable take-away for me as a aspiring innovator engineer.
I have tasted the first part of how having a compelling need, a wild idea, a good team and great mentors can lead to the uprising of potentially disruptive technologies. I’m excited.
Lastly, just for fun, and to thank you for reading all the grandmother stories:
If you would like to sound (quasi) Singaporean, try reading some sentences aloud, exchanging all the “L”-sounds for “R”-sounds and vice-versa. Or just come practice your skills with us…