I just finished The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices. Sorcerers tells the story of the MIT Media Lab, the famed interdisciplinary hotspot of invention and innovation. Narrated by Frank Moss, former director of the Media Lab, this book takes you through their open process of solving problems and offers a remarkable snapshot of the Media Lab’s mindset.
As I was reading Sorcerers I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where is the Media Lab of health care?’ Why can’t we take what the Media Lab has done and create a similar model for medicine and health care? Sure the Media Lab has a New Media Medicine group which focuses on this but I’m thinking something much bigger and more comprehensive. From the self-management of specific disease states to physician work-flow or the most frustrating hang ups of EMRs, it could handle things just as they’re done in Cambridge but on a much larger scale for health and medicine.
Moss describes four themes that underlie the Media Lab’s unique approach:
Think anti-disciplinary. The Media Lab brings together people from widely different backgrounds to fix problems. Instead of interdisciplinary, this has been referred to as anti-disciplinary, a term that embodies a certain contempt for silos. The solutions we seek have been created outside of our silos. The thinking to fix our problems may well come from those who see and do things much differently than we do in health care.
Create structured serendipity. The Lab encourages and facilitates the cross-fertilization of ideas that can typically come from chance encounters.
Have ‘hard fun’. This describes the Media Lab’s “distinctive approach to playful invention, which begins by teaching students how to build almost anything and then encourages them to express their most fanciful ideas by building them and then seeing what happens when people use them.” Can you imagine the drudgery of today’s medical school curriculum uprooted by the mindset embodied at the Media Lab?
People and passion. You can talk all day about the elements that would make a center for innovation, but at its core needs to be a remarkable group of open-minded and dangerously creative people. People willing and excited to smash paradigms. People willing to try things without punishment or repercussion from failure. It’s the people and leadership of the Media Lab that have created the uniquely fertile culture responsible for its success.
What was evident in Sorcerers is that the real innovation that once happened in industry and academia is effectively dead. New ideas are consistently crushed by a system of safety, security and cynicism. And there isn’t an area more than health or medicine that needs the culture and process of the media lab right now. I think the time is right to model a full-scale center for health care solutions on the Media Lab.
Sound crazy? Read The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices to see how the Media Lab’s process has created some of today’s most amazing technological solutions. You’ll be sold.
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