Innovation Coaching

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June 11, 2018
Thoughts by
Andrew DiMeo

On Halloween day in 1957, a blackout in Minnesota tragically took the life of a young patient who was on a pacemaker.  This unmet medical need was addressed by Dr. Lillehi of the University of Minnesota and engineer Earl Bakken. Their collaboration resulted in the invention of the first battery-powered pacemaker and was the innovation leading to Medtronic. Today, Medtronic is the largest medical device company in the world.

This innovation was derived from a patient need

Not a doctor's want. Not an engineer's solution.

This doctor/engineering relationship has been embraced around the world, most notably due to the ambassadorship of Paul Yock and Wallace Coulter.

This year, Paul Yock was recognized with the most prestigious award given by the National Academy of Engineering: The Gordon Prize. He is credited with founding and directing Stanford Biodesign. This program's fundamental core is the collaboration of multiple disciplines, including doctors and engineers working together with attorneys and business people. Together, they identify unmet needs while immersed in the hospital.

Wallace Coulter is an engineer, inventor of the Coulter Counter, and entrepreneur that started the Coulter Corporation, today Beckman Coulter. Wallace had a vision, and in his death, breathed life into this doctor/engineering collaboration by leaving his entire estate to the formation of the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. To be eligible for a Coulter Grant, a doctor and an engineer must work together to co-author a proposal.

In all of these examples, it is not an engineer looking for needs from a doctor. It is not a doctor turning to an engineer to build their solution. It is rather a collaboration of a caregiver and a problem-solver working together on a need that matters while immersed in the clinical setting.

Innovation is often defined as a process. Biodesign's is "Identify, Invent, Implement." The Coulter process is "Idea Generation, Risk Assessment & Screening, Selection, Risk Reduction, and Follow on Funding." Whether it be the healthcare industry, durable goods, or consumer products, you will find differing definitions of, and processes that describe innovation. The downside is the genericized overuse of the word. The upside: awareness of its importance.

I define innovation as doing good to others and working smart, or, being caring and thoughtful.

Operating Room

No matter how the word or process of innovation is defined, it is clear to me that successful innovation comes from diverse teams working together to solve problems that matter. A team with a mission. Exceptional teams are diverse, share a unified mission, and are immersed in context.

From the battlefield to the gridiron to the boardroom, people with diverse skills working together on a unified mission is necessary to implement the innovation process ... the game plan. Entering the chaos of the war, game, business, or surgical suite is necessary to win, play, profit, or save.

It's hard not to use basketball as an example here on Tobacco Road. With legendary teams that include players such as Michael Jordan and David Thompson; and coaches such as Dean Smith, K, and Valvano.  The players on the floor with diverse skills... big men, shot takers, point guards, and defensive specialists.  The game plan's different... slow down, run and gun, man, zone. The objectives all the same... cutting down nets.

In 12-years as a professor at NC State, it's been the students that decided to don me with the title "coach" or photoshop my head onto the body of Valvano. It wasn't because my name ended in "o" like the legendary Wolfpack coach, but because getting 80 students onto diverse teams to solve unmet medical needs was an exercise in coaching.

A team of 2, like Lillehi and Bakken, working side by side on a critical need, in response to a lost child's life, can be self-coached. As medical devices, durable good, and consumer products become more advanced in a highly technical world, the tendency towards specialization in development silos is increased. The need to bring together experts from multiple disciplines in genuine harmony while ensuring teamwork toward a worthy goal is paramount. That's coaching on the court of innovation. Trig understands the need for partnering up across our vast network of expert connections to create solutions addressing patient needs and pursuing the improvement of all future healthcare technology. Are you ready to forge breakthroughs?

Andrew DiMeo
Innovation & Design Coach

Dr. Andrew DiMeo is a 20 year seasoned expert in the Biomedical Engineering industry. He is founder and former executive director of the NC Medical Device Organization, which became an NC Biotech Center of Innovation. He also co-founded and became VP of Business Development for the design and manufacturing company EG-Gilero.


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