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Breaking Out of Our Own Limitations

As children we are told many cliches such as, “the possibilities in life are endless. You can do anything you want to do.” These statements may have become overused, but there’s a truth to it, with the right tools. As we get older, we generally tend to forget this sentiment. I believe this frame of mind comes from becoming more familiar with the way things are, which limits us to seeing the way things could be. Being able to see past what is known is how true innovation happens.

 

This is where applying techniques of defamiliarization becomes beneficial. In order to be able to see how things could be, we need to defamiliarize ourselves with our own current perception and understanding of the world. Genevieve Bell, et al., argue that, “defamiliarization is a useful tool for creating space for critical reflection and and thereby for opening up new possibilities for the design of domestic technologies.” Defamiliarization can manifest in a variety of techniques such as journaling, conducting ethnographic research, or learning about an opposing viewpoint. I think as long as the method produces reflection or allows someone to ask why beyond face value, then progress will be made.

 
Let’s take a look at healthcare for a minute. If we take the term for face value it implies a positive relationship. Who doesn’t want to be cared for, especially in regards to their health? Then we look at the typical interaction between a healthcare professional (HCP) and “patients” we realize that the relationship feels pretty surface level. Dubberly, et al., explains that HCP’s, “proposals are not just suggestions, they are prescriptions or literally ‘physician orders.’ Patients who don’t take their medicine are not ‘in compliance.’” This description of a healthcare professional doesn’t give me much confidence in regards to being cared for, especially in a medical scenario where the patient has a life-threatening condition. I think it speaks to how medical education can turn caring for a human being into a job void of emotion with a focus of efficiency and accuracy. The impact becomes lost in this frame. Don’t worry, there is hope.

 
Clay Johnson, the Dean of Dell Medical School in Austin, TX is employing a mentality to address this exact issue. He says that, “they’re determined to build the new medical school… on the ‘value-based’ health care model, treating patients and rewarding doctors on the basis of actual ‘outcomes’ – how healthy they keep their patients, and ultimately, how healthy they keep whole populations in Central Texas.” This mentality came from challenging the norm and looking beyond the current frame to see what is possible. The outcome is a new program driving innovation within the healthcare industry by challenging current measurements of success and encouraging to look at the whole patient, not just a current symptom they have for a particular condition.

 
I would argue this approach to medicine is radical innovation within the industry. Donald Norman and Roberto Verganti explain how incremental innovation and radical innovation differ through the hill-climbing paradigm.

 

Change Map

 

Don Norman argues that Human Centered Design (HCD) can facilitate in incremental design and improve the current frame, but radical design occurs outside the world of HCD. Radical innovation occurs once a new hill is seen by changing the frame or by introducing new technology to reach another hill. Then HCD can improve upon that new perspective. Clay Johnson saw another hill, and is now climbing towards the top.

 
When this shift happens it doesn’t mean that it will take effect right away. Norman explains how the acceptance of radical innovations take time. He gives an example of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.

 

Thomas Edison

 

Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but improved on the existing technology and infrastructure to allow widespread adoption. This is where I think the line between radical innovation vs radical effect could be clarified. Edison’s development aided in incremental innovation which allowed a radical effect to occur. I feel our society leans towards the encouragement of radical innovation when both radical and incremental innovation models are important. Taking into account that true radical innovations occur once every decade or so, we should celebrate looking at incremental innovation, but through the lens of the how we can allow incremental innovation to have a radical effect.

 
Opportunities for improvement and impact exist all around us, but we limit ourselves without branching out of our own bubble. As designers, we have the skills and knowledge to be able to zoom in and out of our own limiting mindset in order to recognize these opportunities. Let’s not limit ourselves by only focusing on climbing the hill, but also keeping an open mind as to other hills we could climb instead.