A Blog of Idle Musings and Wild Provocations
Several years ago, my friend Jane took me to see a ballet performance in New York. For the life of me, I can’t recall which theatre we went to, the name of the dance company or even more frustrating, the name of the lead dancer. What I do recall is the very last second of her performance. She raised her right leg up over her head, pivoted towards the audience with the rest of her body remaining still and pointed her foot. That single action sent a shock wave out directly across the whole theatre straight into my soul. I was transformed. The impact of that solitary and utterly graceful movement swept over me like a tidal wave of emotion. How do you explain in rational terms such a phenomenon? In retrospect, it felt like she was able to transmit the entirety of her struggle as an artist on that stage in that very moment. The hundreds of hours of practicing, the thousands of hours perfecting her craft and a lifetime of struggle forced their way out into the ether across the audience. I could paint similar experiences with Mozart’s Mass in D, Victor Hugo novels or Slava the Clown’s snowstorm apocalypse. These experiences were transformative not only because the artist had to strive in the creation of these epic outpourings but because we the audience are taken along with them. It is as if we had experienced those heroic struggles ourselves. There are many forms of art. A current trend seems to be focused around self-expression only; offering an individual perspective on one subject or another. While the I laud anyone’s attempt to create art, I cannot help but judge all art by its transformative ability. The romantics of any age move beyond their individual point of view. They may vary as to the topic, method or medium, but they all have one thing in common: they are giving us meaning by expressing the human struggle to overcome and the drive to become something greater.
This Will Kill That
While putting together the assets for this website, I came across old letters I had either received or sent over the years. These handwritten biopics offered a glimpse into our souls and a small window into our sense of life then, brief moments captured in time. They are written logs of mental conversations enacted between oneself and the receiver. What was once a weekly exercise has now become an all too distant ritual. How have I changed in the past decade to where I no longer have these moments of contemplation and intimate correspondence? Letter writing is a form of meditation. It requires putting oneself in a safe space to summon deep self-reflection. My writing ritual required a good cup of tea, Chopin, a few sheets of parchment and a quill and ink. It had all the sanctity of a Japanese tea ritual. I would usually start each letter with a brief explanation of current affairs and latest updates. These quickly dissolved into some form of soliloquy or postulation around my state of being and how I saw the world and myself in it at the time. Whom the letter was written to would dictate the tonality and depth of insight. We have friends who are confessors and some who are our compatriots. Some of us act as mentors or personal therapists to our peers. No matter which role we enact, the conversations one has in a letter are quite different than what we would have with someone in person or for that matter even in our internal dialogues. The ink and paper assure us that there will be no rash judgment or need to rationalize what has been emoted. We are free to explore strange ideas or irrational feelings without being self-conscious and with all the time in world. These mental conversations inhabit a kind of spiritual sanctuary where we can confess our deepest fears or reflect on our dearest wishes. Those moments of solitude may not have permanently solved our anxieties or day to day issues, but they did provide a momentary relief from our inner demons and a sort of spiritual detox.
The title of this little rant is borrowed from a chapter in Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame. Hugo postulates’ that the printing press had a direct impact on the purpose of architecture. From the moment stories could be communicated in common languages and available to everyone, architecture no longer needed to be a messenger to the masses. Architecture would henceforth only require functionality and aesthetics. Hugo’s brilliant insight captured the essence of how Gutenberg’s invention invoked a social cultural revolution. Today, social media is having a similar impact in altering our social structures and how we communicate. Whereas a letter is addressed to an individual, our social media posts are directed at a whole group. Social media has been silently democratizing our social interactions and they have become impersonal and void of deep intimacy. How this will impact us over the long run no one can tell. The recent pandemic has been a harsh reminder of how fragile our social interactions are and how important they can be.
To Err Is Human
I had a friend in college who had studied classical music his whole life. He played three instruments professionally and knew everything about composition and musical theory. He could even transcribe music to any instrument or key blindfolded. What he could not do was improvise. The years of training had molded him into a perfect classical musician so that whatever note he would play he unconsciously knew what the next note is, or which chord should follow without even looking at the music. I have none of that technical mastery. My percussion skills are decent after years playing in clubs and I learned to play trumpet at a beginner’s level in school. When it comes to my piano skills or composition, I never had the dedication to practice and learn even the most basic skills. However, when I sit down at the piano, I have none of his limitations, I can improvise at each moment without the slightest bit of judgment or being self-conscious about mistakes. Most of what I produce would not be considered polished or musically correct but occasionally, a spontaneous composition or phrasing will emerge that is wonderous. If you listen to some of the pieces I placed in the recordings section of this site, you will hear an idea for a symphonic piece, a few solo piano interludes, and a jam session with a group of local musicians. There are many atonal notes that will make your ears perk up and cringe as much as they do me. I must warn you that there are some chord progressions that will might actually induce you to have a seizure! I publish these not with the intention that they are masterpieces but only that there are occasional moments of inspiration. If I had the inclination and the dedication, I could get my old friend to put the notes down and remove all the imperfections and he would probably be able to play these masterfully. There is something extraordinary when you hear or see your own moments of inspiration, they are such a wonder that you almost feel as if you had no hand in their creation.
There are thousands of free website builders which can easily help create a pixel perfect and fully functional website. The average computer and even most phones have some form of design program to make everyone an artist. We can design and create images that have no faults or errors with machine like perfection. There is something slightly off to me about computer polished art. It’s too perfect. The hand of the artist is removed, and it feels cold, plastic, and artificial. I often prefer original sketches over finished paintings even from some of the great masters. This is because those sketches show the imperfections of the hand or the note as they progressed, and we connect with them in those moments. The subject and composition are also important aspects of the experience. But the creative journey where we can see into the artists soul is where we connect deeply. If the texts and layout of this site seem a bit skewed or off, you now know why.
Designing for Paradigm Shifts
Our global healthcare system is not sustainable. We are at a real tipping point. Resources are becoming ever limited, while population numbers are rising. We’re lucky enough to be living longer, yet unlucky enough to be suffering a plethora of chronic diseases, often more than one at the same time. The healthcare system has become so burdened by its enormity that it has neglected an essential need of the customers it so valiantly serves. They want to matter to the experts in whom they place their trust. It’s deeper than wanting to be cared for or cured. It’s a complex emotional bond that’s been fractured.
So how do we fix it? Well, most suggest two solutions. First, government and business can lavish enormous sums of money and attention to patch things up and hope the current system will be elastic enough to support the growing needs. Alternatively, people can make a fundamental change to the way they manage their health, preventing disease and sparking a systemic transformation that benefits citizens as much as the healthcare system. I believe there is a third, and more preferable way. To co-design a future in which both parties take the initiative and transform each other. Where people are enabled and encouraged to take charge of their own health, to protect and nurture themselves in technologically-advanced ways. Where emboldened healthcare stakeholders take tough, far-reaching decisions that will recalibrate the systems currently crumbling in front of their eyes.
Empowerment is the key behind this extraordinary paradigm shift. And design thinking can be leveraged to unleash those forces for change to fulfil the needs of both system and customer. Empowered customers can help to redesign a more personalized system, so that instead of feeling like a nameless commodity their own actions and choices will matter.
An empowered healthcare provider can transform itself from a complex quantity-based system into an outcome-based approach with a modern, digitally-fuelled, user-centric network of connected experts, from hospitals and local health providers to insurance and technology companies. Still with the same passion, expertise and devotion – but with a shared sense of purpose, a reinvigorated idealism centered on what’s conceivable rather than merely achievable.
The bridge between these two convergent user and provider trends is mindset. Empowering patients to design a new way of extending life, while empowering governments and their stakeholders to redesign working practices. The healthcare system revolution isn’t simply a technological one, it’s cultural too, in which consumers are no longer passive recipients of services. They are looking for ways to create new actions themselves. In the past, patients were almost secondary figures, dwarfed by the mass-production ‘factories’ of care and treatment, where growing multi-morbidity would mean being passed among different specialists. The system is buckling because it wasn’t designed for such care co-ordination.
Mass-customisation worked when numbers were manageable. But now, with rapidly-growing populations and ageing societies – combined with limited budgets – the system can’t cope. Such a crisis means patients have to take ownership of their care. We see it most obviously with a new generation of elderly whose use of technology, coupled with their own active regimens, is enriching their lives. They have been liberated into taking control of their health in ways that were denied previous generations. They think across the entire healthcare continuum – from living with a condition to its diagnosis, treatment and recovery. And so it is beholden to us to collaborate on designing a future that reflects that – not just a system that deals with a part of your well-being and then passes you on.
Collaboration has usurped the patrician doctrine of ‘we know best’. Instead, we need to ask questions before even contemplating answers. That is where the paradigm of empowerment is critical– on connective partnerships that enable all parties to co-create. From those partnerships will emerge a new personalized, people-focused system of healthcare. At Philips we understand that to respond in a meaningful, holistic and agile way to people’s needs, we must analyze psychographic profiles not only clinical conditions. That is why we fill our design teams with psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists – next to classic design capabilities – in order to construct customer-centric solutions that empower people to exert control over their lives.
We must accept that in the next few decades there won’t be enough healthcare services to support the population. That need not be a terrifying prospect – if we have the courage to ensure a new era of co-created strategic transformations that both user and provider desperately need. There is no magic button. But a dramatic mindset change, influenced by design and innovation, can be effective. Delay is not an option. The challenges society faces are now not just in the future.