Virtually Priceless Thoughts

Reflections on Health, Informatics, and Research

Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ tag

Jonathan Ive and Prototyping

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I scanned an article this morning on MacWorld about Jonathan Ive and his recent honorary doctorate. He’s the Senior VP for industrial design at Apple and has won many awards for his work and the work of his teams. Here is the quote that stands out for me:

“I love making prototypes. We go right from idea to prototypes. I just love making objects. Prototypes create this dramatic shift in the conversation—suddenly it becomes tangible and the silence goes away.” – Jonathan Ives

This is so true in my experience as well. Although there can often be a form of discussion / debate where people are clearly are speaking about completely different things. Prototypes bring a level of focused discussion and tangible feedback that is key. They don’t have to be physical, they can be software and / or paper prototypes.

Prototypes are the tangible artifacts that can be commonly experienced rather than simply discussed.

My grandmother built models of her larger sculptures for this reason as well.

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July 3rd, 2009 at 6:23 am

Passion for Work

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Jim Collins talks about acquiring the skills of a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader, in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, is a leader who puts “ambition first and foremost for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”

His example of Lou Gerstner resonated with something I sketched in my notebook a few years ago. Jim Collins describes how he interprets Lou’s evolution to a level 5 leader. With a very poignant quote from Lou about IBM. Lou Gerstner “fell in love with IBM” – and that was the point in which he transformed into the highest level leader.

Accidental Creative is an online community that I have been a member of for several years. In a discussion some years ago on the importance of engagement, Todd Henry sketched out an idea much like the one illustrated here. Ensuring engagement in the creative process is key to productivity. Allowing for ebbs and flows and exploratory activities keeps the engagement high, as well as many other things like belief in the value of the project, it’s goals, etc.


I quite like the terms he uses. (There is such a wonderful distinction between willing compliance and malicious obedience.) One of the gaps for me in the model was the context of the work. I think that is useful to think about a level of engagement in both the content of your work and the context of your work.

This is true for medicine. I move up and down the arrow (mostly near the top I am happy to say) in terms of my passion for healthcare and my work in the inner city. I would not be able to sustain that level of commitment without also having similar engagement with the context of my work – the organization and the people. Perhaps that is part of what is needed in the sustainable transformation of level 5 leaders. There is a creative excitement to both the content of your work (doing the right work) and to the context of your work (doing the work in the right way and in the right place). Perhaps this is what Lou Gerstner discovered at IBM.


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May 25th, 2009 at 8:18 am

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Out Lying – Reflections on Malcolm Gladwell’s New Book Outliers

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I’ve started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book – Outliers. I’m only into chapter 3, but the “10,000 hour rule” keeps bumping around my head and has me thinking. Especially as I am spending the week at the Family Medicine Forum, brushing up knowledge.

“Outliers: The Story of Success” (Malcolm Gladwell)

Basically, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. Malcolm gives examples of hockey players and musicians practicing. Bill Gates programming, etc.

But, what counts in the 10,000 hours?

Bill Gates spent 100s if not 1000s of hours program a financial system – not a programming languages or an OS, but it seems to have counted. The Beatles played in Hamburg for thousands of hours, but how does that translate to the White Album?

In my recent career(s), I have two streams of work – my clinical and informatics work. How much are those intertwined into developing my own expertise?

By my calculations, I put in over 1,500 hours in obstetrical training. I don’t practice obstetrics anymore – does that still count?

I was an animator in the late 1980s and 1990s. What from there is transferable to my “expertise”? How about my biology degree?

A friend argued with me once that we mathematically cannot prove irrelevance. That is we cannot prove that one activity is not relevant to another. Is my understanding of wave theory relevant to my happy marriage?(1)

So what is relevant in those 10,000 hours? Is it game time, or just time on the ice? Is it physical action or visualization? Is it ward time or classroom time? I’m not sure.

Malcolm Gladwell hints that it is time dedicated to improving your skills. In that way reflection on action is key.

Maybe it is also how you define your expertise? Maybe Seth Godin has it right – try to be the best in the world. And the way to do that is to define our own world. Create your world and spend 10,000 hours becoming an expert in it.

My professional world consists of primary health care, clinical information systems, developing understanding of teams of engaged people wanting to make a difference, user-centred design goodness and of course lots of play intermingled. It’s a pretty good world and I’ve definitely enjoyed lying out here for a few thousand hours 🙂

1. Actually yes, as it turns out It has been – a few times just recently, in fact.

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November 29th, 2008 at 8:31 am

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Engineering 4 Health – Highschool Challenge 2

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We had our second Engineering 4 Health Challenge at UVic yesterday and it was another success! Some great students who participated and some really fantastic ideas that were generated. The topic for this challenge was the same — use the OLPC (One laptop per Child) as the design platform for creating health applications for students in developing countries. One project was focusing on engaging the whole family in their health through the OLPC and the other was a health oriented game that provided health education in the form of game challenges. Really interesting approaches.

The paper storyboarding design for the event seems to be quite manageable and has generated some good results. We managed to squeeze it into a 1/2 day. @ 133% (RGB_Preview) .png

We started by having a group brainstorming session – timed, with two facilitators. Facilitators helped clarify ideas from the participants and encouraged students to speak out their ideas, often using one initial idea “build a game” to create several specific ideas about games. On of our facilitators (not me!) started concept mapping ideas, to show the linkages. @ 133% (RGB_Preview) -1.png

Students were then broken into small groups and encouraged to choose and idea. The small groups (4-5 students plus 2-3 facilitators) often found as they selected ideas, they not only drew out more detail, but some also merged several ideas into one package.

The next step for the students was to begin to work out the details of the design and a high level flow. We did this with the students through paper prototyping and pasting together a high level storyboard on 4’x6′ paper. We used paper mock-ups of the OLPC laptops (below) so the students could draw their rough screen sketches on them and describe some of the functional activities on the pages. This really helped quickly make ideas real and also was accessible to students — some focused more on GUI design and others more on functional description.

OLPC Images.graffle_ Canvas 4.png OLPC Images.graffle_ Canvas 7.png

All the individual pictures were placed on the paper with arrows used to denote typical screen flows for users. Not everything was on the storyboard, obviously. Many of the ideas they had were quite complex and would require a fair amount of content, but the pages really did give a good idea about how the systems might work, following along a specific scenario or giving an overview of the path of a game. @ 133% (RGB_Preview) -2.png

At the end of the morning, each group was able to present their idea to the rest of the students. @ 133% (RGB_Preview) -3.png

I definitely enjoyed this project and wanted to thank all the students, volunteers, faculty, staff and teachers who made this happen.

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November 11th, 2008 at 6:47 am

Pecha Kucha Academia?

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I was reading Presentation Zen, Garr Reynold’s new book (link is to his great blog). In there he has a side bar on Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit-chat) — a night where architects get together and, if they present, they are only allowed to use 20 slides and each slide can only be on screen for 20 seconds. Untitled.jpg

That’s a 6:40 presentation run, no exceptions.

It is an interesting constraint to a presentation and one that would be very interesting for academic talks. We already present under time limits, but don’t have the slide restrictions.

I think having a restriction on slides to precisely 20 images, makes you become more explicitly aware of what you are going to do with each one rather than just stringing together a bunch of slides. 20 seems a reasonable number to get students or faculty to start experimenting with.

Some groups are apparently trying this. I might try and suggest this for our department. It is definitely something I would like to try. There is a group not far away – but my topics of medicine / informatics might not quite fit what they want…

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May 30th, 2008 at 10:36 am

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Visual Thinking – Big

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So I have been spending time recently exploring visual thinking, capturing, sharing, and reasoning with pictures as well as words.

Today I came across something that was big. Big as in elephant big.

Of course, I start thinking about what the training must have been to draw this picture, but still there is a sense of awe watching this. Not EXACTLY visual thinking, but still worthy of sharing.

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March 29th, 2008 at 10:13 am


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Had my PhD comprehensives yesterday. I was deemed “sufficiently comprehensive”, and so I move forward towards my own research. I thought the exam went well – parts of it felt like a conversation rather than an interrogation so that must have been a good sign.

BTW – I even managed to reference Malcom Gladwell’s TED Talk presentation (below) when being asked about health informatics standards — “there is no such thing as a perfect pickle only perfect pickles”. I definitely find Malcolm’s talk worth watching.

I enjoyed Malcolm’s talk on choice, although clearly too many choices are detrimental as well. Tying Malcolm’s talk back to HINF. We do not know the natural break down, or categories, for clinical information systems — is there an “extra chunky” EMR flavor that we should be designing? Much work ahead, I think.

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December 8th, 2007 at 10:07 am

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