Qmed Staff

November 30, 2015

6 Min Read
Does Disruptive Innovation Really Have to Be So Disruptive?

The rate that technological breakthroughs are being developed continues to increase at breakneck speed, leading to seismic shifts in how people interact with technology on a daily basis. It is thus vital to ensure that developers of new technologies consider human behavior to engage users amidst a landscape marked by unprecedented change. 

Craig Scherer

Craig Scherer

Craig Scherer is a senior partner and cofounder of Insight Product Development. 

The digital health and Internet of Things authoritative Web resource, WTVOX.com reminds us that: "The world is changing fast. Faster than any time in human history... it took fifty years for one in four Americans to adopt electricity...It took thirty years for the same number to utilize the radio... eighteen years to "accept" the color TV. Thirteen years for mobile phones and only seven for laptops. That's how fast the world is changing."

In the white paper The Guide to the Future of Medicine from medical futurist Bertalan Mesk, MD, PhD we can see a great deal of technological influence that will change medicine in the very near future. We can even see further progress in many of the areas outlined in this infographic even since it was published just two years ago.

There is so much commentary in the media highlighting both companies and technologies that got left behind by failing to think differently and holding on too long to their sacred cows. In my last article, "what is Disruptive Innovation; and Why You Can't Afford to Ignore It", I discuss several ways to be on the lookout for disruption and how to rethink your views about how your organization manages disruptive innovation and technology. The next step in embracing this rapid change and accommodating disruption is to think about how people behave.

The top 10 medical technologies for 2015, as listed by WT VOX, are all virtually transparent to the user and their core behaviors and beliefs. Sources of innovation including Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), nanotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), and nanotechnology are all disruptive technologies, but they all will enable products and services to support and enhance users' behaviors, not force change on them.

Creating Innovation that Sticks

Guide Small

The Guide to the Future of Medicine by Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD (Click to see a larger version)

So how do we innovate technologies that promote adoption? And, is it really necessary to require people to change their attitudes and behaviors to use a new technology? The key to driving initial adoption and to combatting early abandonment is to attempt to understand our target users completely and develop solutions that fit within their core belief systems and expectations. Everett Rogers' "Diffusion of Innovation" calls out some key requirements for our new innovations that help drive to sustained success. It is important to use these "barometers" to evaluate new opportunities:

  • They should have clear advantages over current offerings in the space, and the improved outcomes should be obvious to virtually everyone.

  • The new offering should have a relative lack of complexity as it is hard to replace a simple solution with a more complex one; people just aren't wired that way.

  • There should be a way for users to try the new technology with little personal risk.

  • We should be able to assure that our new solutions have a high level of compatibility with existing values and behaviors.

User-centered Design: The Nemesis of Innovation?

Last year, Fast Company reported in the article, User-Led Innovation Can't Create Breakthroughs, that "...creative people will feel limited and bored, not inspired, if they have to start out a creative process with a lot of user knowledge."  Reading this, makes me feel like there is a real disconnect in what user-centered design is all about. As device designers, we are not trying to have users "design" the product for us, we are trying to understand how the result of our efforts will best fit into current cultural, behavioral, and workflow expectations in order to promote first time use and adoption.

In the past, we have witnessed organizations blindly follow a user-centered design methodology even to the point of creating a "four-step stage gate" process around it. In reality, there is a huge difference between asking a user what the next disruptive product should be and getting feedback on workflow or usability for a complex product with a great deal of constraints.

Arguably, users can only get you so far.  There are a plethora of other variables that contribute to disruption that must be considered. User-centered design on its own is a great tool for incremental innovation, but that in combination with understanding other influences such as emerging technologies, business contexts, user trends, and industry needs, is what leads to broader sweeping change. 

Accommodating Disruption

User-centered design is less about discovering how to be disruptive and more about how to make disruption acceptable and adoptable. When minute clinics first appeared, the one thing they did not require users to change was their perceptions around the quality of care delivered. The fact that consumers could wait ten minutes in a drug store instead of three hours in an emergency department of a hospital to get a certified clinician to evaluate their health issues was very appealing. What this new service did not do, was require users to lower their expectations for level of quality that they would expect from a healthcare provider in a more traditional setting.

Another great example was the advent of the automated external defibrillator (AED). When these products came out, they did not require people to have the training level of an EMT, they instead used illustrations like ones that people were familiar with in CPR training and augmented them with voice commands. This made a very stressful situation more palatable while increasing the odds for better medical outcomes.

In the world of surgical devices, two companies are delivering disruptive innovation by perfectly accommodating current workflows. Britseed's SafeSnips technology can identify the presence, size, and location of vessels embedded in tissue and feed this information back in real time to the surgeon before a dangerous cut is made.  To a surgeon, this is like adding headlights to a car when driving at night. This breakthrough technology is virtually transparent to the surgeon, fitting perfectly into their surgical workflow. Even Intuitive Surgical's highly regarded da Vinci system is designed to mimic the surgeon's natural physical interactions with tools. For the surgeon, it is designed to feel like they actually holding and manipulating the device that is doing the procedure.

None of the consumer health or surgical devices listed in any of the examples above required their target user groups to "design" their own solutions. The developers of these products and services instead created solutions that are categorized as disruptive innovations and also had the greatest probability of adoption because they took the time to understand their user's behaviors, workflows, and expectations. In the end, user-centered design will not stifle creativity but if fact will focus efforts toward solutions that accommodate users' behaviors and attitudes in ways that encourage adoption and minimize abandonment.

Craig Scherer, co-founder and senior partner at Insight Product Development (Chicago).

Learn more about user-centered design in an Insight Product Development workshop dedicated to the topic at BIOMEDevice San Jose, December 2-3.

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