4 tips for adopting an innovation mindset

April 17, 2019

Last fall, we sat down with Philip Edgcumbe to record a podcast about exponential technologies and medicine. For those of you who don’t know him, Philip is a scientist, biomedical engineer, medical innovator, physician in training (MDPhD) and entrepreneur. As a faculty member of Singularity University, he is passionate about applying exponential technologies to solve the global and Canadian grand challenge of health care. In 2017, he was awarded the Canadian Medicine Hall of Fame Award. Personally, Philip is striving to positively impact the health of a billion people by connecting medicine, biomedical research and entrepreneurship.

In the recording, he highlighted some tips with us for medical students we wanted to share—those who are just starting out and not only want to be prepared for the fast-changing landscape in health care, but who actually want to be active adopters, disrupters and influencers―although we think his tips are universal.

Embrace your naïveté

Embrace that you may see things differently, embrace that you may not know what can’t be done, and in that naïveté, go ahead and do it. We can take inspiration from George Dantzig, a university student who famously arrive late for his math class one day, scribbled down the two math questions that the teacher had written on the board, and assumed that the math questions were the class homework for the week. A few days later, he handed in his “homework” only to be told by his incredulous Professor that the two problems that George had just solved were considered to be two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics. George remarked afterwards that "the problems [had] seemed to be a little harder to do than usual." There are most certainly analogous discoveries in the world of medicine that are just been waiting to by a naïve medical student. Embrace that vision for your future!

Embrace the power of “yes, and” conversations

In other words, give space for the impossible in a conversation. When someone brings up an idea which seems a little bit farfetched, instead of shooting it down, say yes and add something to it.

Embrace bad idea brainstorming

This technique can be used when trying to think about a big breakthrough, a way of doing things differently, a better way to approach a problem. Sit down with friends and do a bad idea brainstorming―where there is no bad idea. The crazier the idea, the better. Just get them all out there.

Look for convergence

It’s medical students who are going to ask the questions that are going to potentially drive the 10x improvements our health care system needs. It took someone like Elon Musk, a relative newbie in the car industry, to shake things up and shoot for a 10X improvement of fossil fuel consumption by developing electric cars. Medical students can do the same thing in health care.  They are familiar with many of the new exponential technologies like nutrigenomics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and digital health, and they are going to identify opportunities for true innovation and bring multiple exponential technologies together to solve a problem and go for a 10X improvement. I encourage medical students to look for opportunities where exponential technologies will converge―an example is the quantified-self movement that is enabled by the convergence of miniaturization of digital sensors, the internet and a better understanding of human biology and health.

I am a medical student and I recognize that I still have lots to learn – especially when it comes to learning the standard of care in health care today. However, I’ve also embraced that I have a slightly naïve perspective. I don't know what the stupid questions are, and that’s okay. I’m embracing that because sometimes experts are the people that tell you what cannot be done, whereas, a medical student coming into the system has a fresh perspective.

Liked Philip’s advice? Listen to the full episode of The possibilities are exponential in technology and medicine


This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule.  Feel passionate about physician-led innovation? Please connect with us at jouleinquiries@cma.ca.

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