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Differences are Good. Collaboration is King.

OCTOBER 21 2016 • BY MIKE LOVAS

Designers and engineers are often pegged against each other in hyper-simplified dichotomies – creative vs logical, intuitive vs rational, human-centric vs function-centric. Generalizations have their place but are corrosive when held onto too tightly. Reframed, these differences can be leveraged to create dynamic solutions for the complex and unique problems we find in healthcare.

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Designers and engineers are often pegged against each other in hyper-simplified dichotomies – creative vs logical, intuitive vs rational, human-centric vs function-centric. Generalizations have their place but are corrosive when held onto too tightly. Reframed, these differences can be leveraged to create dynamic solutions for the complex and unique problems we find in healthcare.

As one who has trained and practiced in both fields —biomedical engineering and product design— I’ve come to realize that these polarizing stereotypes have largely been conditioned from silo-ed schooling. Organizations that recognize and celebrate unique talents, but aren’t divided by them, are the ones that thrive. At the Centre, you’ll find creative engineers and rigorous designers working side-by-side on the same team. In fact, honouring diversity of talent is part of our special sauce and part of why I love working here.

Back in school, students learn particular ways of approaching problems using a handful of discipline-specific tools, for example: personae and experience maps for designers, and differential equations and finite element models for engineers. Confined to using the same tools and seeing the same types of problems for years, students easily become rigidly identified with their discipline’s preferred way of working – seeing everything as a nail to their proverbial hammer. However, once outside the walls of academia, they soon realize that their hammer is inadequate for the truly challenging problems.

In the field of healthcare, problems are rife with complexity, multiple-stakeholder scenarios, and life-critical problems. When custom-built solutions are often the requisite, I have found that rigid, silo-ed thinking does not get you far. Nimble teams with T-shaped professionals are best suited for this type of work. The T-shaped person, coined by McKinsey and Company and popularized by Tim Brown of IDEO, describes people with deep expertise in one field (vertical stroke of the T) but with broad ranging interests, empathy, and ability to communicate across different fields (horizontal stroke of the T). These types of people are at the heart of strong collaborative team.

At the Centre, we are awash with T’s. I see colleagues who are formally trained engineers with a flare for UX design, formally trained designers helping re-engineer medical devices, and health informatics specialists driving product management. The collaboration across our eclectic team members is not only remarkable, but necessary to maintain global leadership in this line of work.

We learn from each other, borrow techniques and approaches across disciplines to make strong cross-functional teams, and grow as individuals. After all, different methods are required for different situations. Having team members with varying perspectives, training, and skill sets provides the flexibility to approach different problem in unique ways. As our team evolves and grows, more opportunities to break out of prescribed functioning exist.

Being able to communicate with people who are different than you is critical; collaboration is king.

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Being able to communicate with people who are different than you is critical; collaboration is king.

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