Fast Company

Don’t Innovate...Integrate

On my flight home from Seattle tonight, I banged through emails then called up the latest Mission Impossible movie. The opening scene grabs you. A spy walks down a dark alley. His mobile phone, scanning his surroundings to conduct facial recognition, identifies that the woman walking toward him is an assassin and warns him with an alarm. But it’s too late. She has already pulled out a silenced gun and shot him.

If you visit certain villages in Africa, you may be surprised to find the science in that fiction is actually not too far away from reality. A pregnant woman is rushed through the door of the village medical clinic. Something is wrong. She needs a doctor. But the clinic is too remote and poor to have one on hand. 

Luckily, the nurse on duty has a mobile phone. With a few taps, she has in hand the information she needs to save the pregnant woman and the child

The miracle of this child’s birth is made possible by a forward-thinking, high-tech social organization called Health eVillages. Founded by Donato Tramuto, CEO of Physicians Interactive, with the support Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, Health eVillages is putting the world’s medical knowledge into the hands of healthcare providers throughout the developing world. They’re not distributing textbooks or training. They are delivering the critical information needed to exactly the right place at the right time to save lives. 

Tramuto is an example of a new type of inventor. He is a CEO, a philanthropist, an advisor to the governor of Maine, an elected official, a member of several boards, and an overall and inspiring mover and shaker in the world of healthcare. He sees that the face of innovation is changing.

“Everyone wants to be an inventor,” Tramuto says, but “it’s not just about innovation; it’s also about integration.” 

Just as Steve Jobs created miraculous new things by piecing together in new ways technologies that already existed, outthinkers are realizing they don’t have to follow the old “scientist in a garage” model to impact the world. They can work with what is already out there.

“Everyone wants to be an innovator and sometimes it's just good enough to be an integrator,” Tramuto said. (pictured right; source: Health eVillages).

Health eVillages has formulated its own unique solution by combining advances in three areas:

  • Platforms that can deliver content on the web and mobile devices more fluidly, 
  • The willingness of content owners (e.g., medical textbook publishers) to embrace digital distribution to gain extensive audience reach, and
  • SkyScape, a technology firm Tramuto’s holding company owns, that is developing mobile apps already used by over 1 million health professionals.

By mixing into this the energy and expertise of a leading philanthropic organization (The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights), Health eVillages is able to take a meaningful bite out of the social problem of global proportions.

According to Kerry Kennedy, president of the RFK Center of Justice and Human Rights, more than one billion people live in rural, underserved areas with inadequate access to healthcare, and nearly a third of countries have critical shortages of skilled healthcare workers.

If we break down how Tramuto and the RFK foundation are able to use technology and integration to solve their own seemingly impossible mission, we see a new innovation pattern, one that defines how outthinkers shape the new economy. It goes like this:

  1. Identify a compelling problem (one billion people with inadequate access to healthcare)
  2. Scan the environment for resources (technologies, social shifts, regulations that if put together properly could make something possible that had not been possible before)
  3. Enroll key stakeholders (for-profit and nonprofit actors that rally behind your cause)
  4. Mix and apply (bring the pieces together to create a brand new image from existing material)

How can you move from innovation to integration? Ask these four questions:

  1. What problem is worth fighting for?
  2. What is changing? What new resources/technologies/changes might we bring together to solve the problem?
  3. Who (which stakeholders) must we get on board?
  4. What mission, cause, and structure would allow these stakeholders to contribute efficiently?

[Image: Flickr user matthijs]

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2 Comments

  • TK Gilliam

    A fascinating aspect of this post is that it begins with a connection between a scene from Mission Impossible and an African village to which Donato Tramuto has brought humanitarian magic.  Our research finding at Synecticsworld is that such apparently irrelevant connections are always at the base of creating something new.  Further, that the innate ability we all possess to integrate these connections and weave them into innovative acts, we find to be a repeating theme of creating new meaning in life.  So my build to the central theme in Kaihan's story is that innovation is essentially about the integration of diverse elements, the making of fresh connections among seemingly unrelated things and events.  We fans of Dr. House see this play out in every episode in those moments of flashing insight where, for example, seeing a pearl necklace leads to a life-saving diagnosis.  Related to this phenomenon, Synectics, the name of our body of knowledge and our practice, long ago became a word and passed into the English language.  It translates roughly as "bringing together diverse elements," the very process related in this story and repeated weekly by the brilliant Dr. House.  Please add your voice to that of my Synecticsworld colleagues, Kaihan and the hundreds of others around the world to tell us your views and stories about how to create and collaborate to make new meaning in life.  I invite you to start here http://www.linkedin.com/groups....

  • Joseph Giordano

    Compelling, eye opening article.  A big peace that I think is important is how to integrate the people and enable the collaboration among the teams that are bringing the integration forward.  @Synecticsworld has been studying group dynamics of collaboration for 50 years and the integration of the team, no matter how altruistic the cause, is as equally as important as the cause itself.