Learning from Adjacent Industries: What Apple Computer Can Teach Healthcare

Last week Apple introduced its newest product, the Apple Watch. According to BusinessWeek, Apple spent years researching watches before deciding to build one. The company flew watch historians to California and they worked to understand how wristwatches have traditionally been used, and how a new “wrist computer” might work. They have hired leaders from diverse backgrounds—none of them techies—to lead these efforts.

It struck me that healthcare could learn a lot from Apple. The company’s growth is fueled by people and perspectives outside its core competency.   For example, Apple has hired fashion designers, doctors and metallurgists.   The CEOs of Burberry and Yves St Laurent have joined Apple. Executives from Tag Heur, Nike, Universal Music, and Gap have been integrated. Imagine the robust discussion that takes place in an organization like that! Apple isn’t hiring more coders and computer insiders from the tech industry: they are hiring executives with broad experience in tangential industries. They must challenge the technology guys at Apple all day, which means that selling an ugly beige box of electronics simply won’t fly at Apple. (It has been that way for a long time at Apple, beginning with Steve Job’s early emphasis on aesthetic details such as fonts.) Here is chart showing Apple’s recent executive hires. The diversity is striking.


I’m often impressed with how insular healthcare has become. As an industry, we have tendency to hire the same sorts of people for the same sorts of roles. We hire people trained as billers, coders, nurses and healthcare managers to fill billing, coding, nurse and healthcare manager jobs. Change is incremental because we have normalized the status quo and few of us can imagine an other way of doing things. In aggregate, we are still in the business of selling ugly beige boxes that do the job but fail to delight. The extraordinary consumer focus in other industries makes healthcare look like its standing still.

As an industry, how do we integrate work done in adjacent industries such as the hotel, retail, online, resort and pharmaceutical businesses? I’d make the argument that the first step is by hiring unorthodox applicants for healthcare leadership roles.   Our HR teams should be looking to, say, cruise ship executives to partner on the patient experience team and with construction engineers to run scheduling. I’m pretty sure that real breakthroughs in healthcare delivery will happen when fresh eyes tackle our intractable problems.


Photos: Businessweek, yaruman5 via Flikr, Creative Commons License


%d bloggers like this: