“You all did great with the presentation,” an HFA mentor congratulated me as I made a cup of tea in the kitchen. My fellowship colleagues and I had just presented our latest progress at the MedStar Institute for innovation's Monthly All Minds Meeting. “You’ve come a long way since September.”
With less than two months left in our fellowship program, those words prompted me reflect on the growth and learning that each of the fellows have experienced day-to-day.
Much like a visiting grandparent notices just how much their grandchild has grown, our mentors see the jumps in progress we’ve made. Whereas we - much like those metaphorical grandchildren - are so immersed in the process, that unless we take a step back and look through the eyes of our mentors, we might not always appreciate the growth spurts we’ve had.
Prompted by our mentor’s feedback, I see more clearly that we’ve transformed from recent graduates navigating a new landscape into fledgling entrepreneurs who have a new arsenal of skills and tools at hand.
In the spirit of that reflection, I’ve zoomed in on what I perceive as our biggest learning moments on this journey of growth:
1. Design a solution to fit a real problem; don’t create a solution in search of a problem.
During ideation, the most productive jam sessions happened when the four of us looked at our problem tracker - compiled from our conversations with stakeholders and patients - and put our heads together on what ideas we had for solving one of the tangible problems we had identified.
Less productive sessions seemed to be those without that “existing problem” scaffolding - when we just went with a free-form brainstorming of ideas. More often, no matter how cool the idea, it would be a solution in search of a problem.
2. When you reach a dead end, pivot your solution so that the obstacle you’re facing is no longer a game-stopper.
When early stage research for one of our top 3 ideas - Mobilify - revealed that insurance reimbursement dynamics would be an insurmountable obstacle, I made a case for why we should “ditch” this idea. Reflecting back, now with more “pivot” experience, I think that a pivot to a new direction might have been a fruitful alternative for Mobilify. We live and learn!
3. Don’t be afraid to pivot, even if this means completely changing the original iteration of your idea.
From working on Galva, I’ve seen that it is possible (and healthy!) to almost completely change the foundation of your idea based on feedback received from mentors and users. Galva has evolved significantly from a direct-to-consumer subscription box model to a program now focused on patient education and targeting a completely different customer - hospital systems.
4. The best design happens when it’s close to your heart. Choose to tackle an issue you feel truly passionate about, since the fire in your heart will be your life raft during tough times.
Encountering one obstacle after another requires grit, and I’ve found that grit develops when you have a fire burning in your heart. The passion for what you’re working on and your solid belief in its success has the potential to make or break your endeavor.
5. Learn to recognize your bias and leave it at the door.
Design thinking and human-centered design are about coming in with an open, inquisitive mind and seeing the actual problems and challenges with unclouded eyes. Coming in with a pre-formed idea of the biggest challenge and the best way to solve it will limit you, preventing you from truly designing for your user.
6. Always test your assumptions. This is the core essence of design thinking and human-centered design.
Building on the previous lesson, one method for keeping your mind open is to test each assumption you make. If you think X is the most pressing problem, find ways to neutrally ask your users: what are the biggest challenges for you day-to-day, and would you say that X was a big problem for you in the past? The process of testing assumptions is what lets you go back to the user & embrace the cyclical nature of human-centered design and lean startup.