Communication and cooperation

Matt Ridley gives a great TED talk about the power of exchange and specialization.

“What’s relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas and how well they are cooperating and not how clever the individuals are…it’s the interchange of ideas that are causing technological progress.” – Matt Ridley

It’s a discussion about the power of the crowd to mix and mash and build ideas that enable the rapid pace of technological change and increase in the standard of living. It brings me back to a quote I heard at PARC a long time ago:

“Much of what we think of as innovation, is really the creative tension between differing viewpoints”

The PARC team has started to record and publish the PARC Forum events which include some great talks:

Many of the talks above are from the Ethnography in Industry series at PARC. But this is about looking outside of your comfort zone for insight and research to inform product design and strategies.

Re-imagining Health

I was watching Jay Parkinson at The Feast earlier this morning talking about Re-imagining Health. Jay formalized his social health care practice tools into Hello Health which allows patients and doctors to engage using new tools to improve health care. He also runs an innovation consultancy, The Future Well, focused on re-imagining health, healthy products and brands.

Jay Parkinson: Re-imagining Healthcare from alldaybuffet on Vimeo.

I went to school thinking I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to make people’s lives better. I wanted to focus on sports medicine and orthopedics. Started down this path, registering in the Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo and hoping to write the MCAT and get accepted to a medical program. At the end of the first year, after volunteering I realized that there were a lot of sick people and that health care wasn’t where I wanted to be. But I had the opportunity to work on a NeXT slab where I used the Web for the first time. (It was also the first time I was subjected to writing code using Objective-C and building experiences using Interface Builder). I decided that technology and design was where I wanted to focus. It’s only recently that my experiences have brought me back to thinking about health care and technology.

“Health, not healthcare!” – Ester Dyson

The consumerization of health and health care is an interesting. The Internet has started to democratize access to information. At about the 19:05 marker in Jay Parkinson’s presentation he talks about Zach Klein‘s experience of $4000 and 20 hours of lost work to get a diagnosis. And when typing in the symptoms into a search engine the first hit was the diagnosis provided by the second physician visited. Just to be clear, I don’t think that Jay Parkinson is arguing to remove medical providers or to only perform self diagnosis, he’s arguing that these new social tools can help connect, enable and inform people and their physicians. He’s built these social tools into HelloHealth, it’s a shared plan – where doctors and patients collaborate. Better informed patients hopefully mean more compliant patients.

And I’ve started to look for ways to better understand my own choices and behaviours to help me make sustainable choices. Why? In 2006 I had a heart attack at DemoCampToronto6 (aka BarCampER). And generally I’m an informed patient, I’m relatively compliant but I want better tools to understand my health. Gartner has called the consumerization of IT the most important trend of the decade 2005-2015. And we can see the impact of these changes on mobile phones and software distribution with the rise of the iPhone and the application store. People are adopting social technologies like Facebook and Patients Like Me. New sensors allow access to data to improve health.

This has me thinking more about the tools and connections used at Kristin’s office to enable engagement and connectivity with patients. I’m left thinking about the regulatory implications for health delivery and how to improve patients lives. And the risks to professional practice, but I think there is significant opportunity beyond electronic medical records and we need to start exploring them.

Related Articles

Innovation Zeitgeist

Photo by kunchia

“Much of what we think of as innovation, is really the creative tension between differing viewpoints” – parc

Where do you go to get learn about new trends? See new ideas?  

Maybe you prefer to go to conferences?

Where do you see the latest and greatest thing since sliced bread?

Corded Innovations

It’s time for a new laptop. In the recent past I’ve owned/used:

  • Dell m1330
  • Apple MacBook Pro (late 2007)
  • Lenovo X60 Tablet
  • Asus EeePC 1000HE
  • Apple Powerbook G4

All have been great machines but they have been lacking. The Dell m1330 has the audio jacks on the front edge, which makes using headphones on the couch an impossibility and the plasticy bits are glued/taped on, lots of power and battery life. The MacBook Pro is missing an SD card slot, the battery life is mediocre but the MagSafe connector and overall industrial design are winners. The Lenovo is a tablet which means it’s overpriced and under powered, it’s a good solid machine. The Asus EeePC has great battery life, but it is too small the keyboard is tiny.

I really like the MagSafe connector on my MacBook Pro. It has saved the laptop from an excessive number of falls (though the frame is now dented and bent from the few falls it’s had). I was wondering why we haven’t seen other manufacturers attempt to innovate around the power connector. Sure the easy answer is because Apple owns a patent for a Magnetic connector for electronic device. However, there are other patents with similar ideas and different implementations.

There is the Replug connectors for headphones (see photo). This combined with the MagSafe connector would provide break away connections for the 2 items often plugged into my laptop.

But why has no other vendor innovated on their power connections? Do consumers just not care? Is this feature non-essential in the selection of a laptop? Or is it like many of the features on a Mercedes S-class as described by Jeremy Clarkson,

“When a new S-class hoves into view, you need only look at the technology that lurks under its vast bulk and you’ll know precisely what will be fitted to the Ford Fiesta 10 years down the line”

It’s a look at the future of laptops. As much as I like hardware hacking, I’d rather not have to hack my power connector with a DIY solution (which is strangely similar to my desire to not add aftermarket products to a car).

Change, health behaviour

Earlier this week, IBM & Google announced a software platform for connecting at-home medical devices automatically to Google Health (Microsoft’s HealthVault has a list of supported devices). ReadWriteWeb and medGadget have great coverage of the announcement. Having a set of open standards for data sharing between health devices is a powerful start to allow people to start to collect, monitor, analyze and act upon their own personal health data. I’ve started thinking more about using data to change behaviour, in particular personal health data to inform and change exercise and health care behaviours. After reading Joshua Rosenthal’s summary of SxSW 2008’s Health 2.0 panels I was hopeful that there would be some coverage in Austin. The current panels and core conversations look like there are 2 sessions including Melanie Rosenthal’s Killing Us Softly: The Failure of Technology in Health Care, John Grohol’s Social Networking in Health: e-Patients, Data & Privacy;  Thor Muller’s Welcome to Your Posthuman Future and Keely Kolmes Therapy 2.0: Mental Health for Geeks

I’m looking forward to learning and discussing patient privacy and cloud storage. Devices and data to modify behaviour. Business models for small care givers. The new found federal support in the US of future health care including education and prevention, along with the systems overhaul are really exciting. Ontario has been on the eHealth bandwagon and published their 2009-2012 eHealth Strategy. There are private-public partnerships like The Centre for eHealth Innovation that should develop a few key local companies and technologies.

Independent’s Day

Microsoft is hostingxna an free evening event at Fed Hall at UWaterloo talking about gaming, XBox Live Community Games, and entrepreneurship. The event is looking is scheduled to have a series of short presentations about how to build a gaming studio. It will feature folks from Microsoft, Frozen North, Infusion Development, and KPMG.

XNA Community GamesMicrosoft has been criticised about the need for a App Store for Windows Mobile (it’s coming). While the story on mobile is emerging, the story for gaming launched in November 2008. Xbox Live Community Games and XNA Creators Club allow designers and developers to create, share, and play games created by others. The FAQ has details about who can submit games and how you can make money. There is additional support for students and startups in getting access to the tools. Students can full access to developer tools at DreamSpark: Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition and XNA Game Studio 3.0. Startups can join BizSpark and gain access to MSDN Premium for almost free (it’s a $100 after 3 years or an exit event). If you are a startup, there are additional benefits in the BizSpark program including access to Network Partners like nGen – Niagara Interactive Media Generator, Communitech and others across Canada that can help support your business development and growth. You don’t need to be in BizSpark to access the services of these groups and others. And there are other fantastic resources like York Technology Association, MaRS, Interactive Ontario, and others.

Kudo One of the most exciting tools that will be release in the Spring is Kodu (formerly Boku) from Microsoft Research. Kodu is programming environment and language designed for kids. The programming environment runs on the Xbox and is built in XNA. It was shown as part of the keynote at CES 2009 (750Kb).


The conversation on January 29, 2009 won’t be focused on the technology. It will focus on the mix of technology, business development, and programs available to Canadian video game entrepreneurs to help them get started.

To register, visit or send Kayla Spiess an email with your name and other contact details.




What: Independent’s Day
When: Thursday, January 29, 2009 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Where: Fed Hall

University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON   Canada

Personal Healthcare & Data


Advertising Age has a summary of the best Health & Wellness products  at CES09. I have been fascinated by the industrial and interaction design work, done by my friends from Carnegie Mellon (Ivo Stivoric & Chris Kasabach), at BodyMedia. The product has developed significantly since the early days in 1999 where they were focused on the initial design and consumer adoption. It’s great to see the development of a multi-focused products built on similar technologies with offerings for: research; clinical applications; personal fitness; and club-based fitness. But it looks like there is an explosion of competition at CES.

polar-ft80 Since I suffered a heart attack in 2006, I’ve been thinking about buying a heart rate monitor (the meds now keep my heart rate artificially low). I’ve been thinking about purchasing a Polar FT80. It’s probably feature overkill, but the device and user experience is beautiful. I am curious about the integration to Polar Personal Trainer supports the software+services development and business models (it’s too bad that Polar hasn’t completely opened their API to support other applications like TrailRunner).

fitbit-inhand Fitbit, which launched at the TechCrunch50, was the category winner at CES. They are a wellness tracker. It tracks data about a persons activities including calories burned, sleep quality, and distance travelled (the calories burned and sleep quality must be interpreted numbers). It’s a great concept, that is similar to BodyMedia’s GoWear science of tracking your galvanic skin response, acceleration, skin temperature and heat flux.

It’s the data, stupid

There is a lot of focus on big when it comes to health care. HealthVault and Google Health are big solutions from multi-billion dollar companies. (Wow, I think the Polar RT80 connects to HealthVault, it’s not explicitly listed but I’m hoping it works). However, I’m wondering if there is a need to focus on individuals. The focus on individuals and individual responsibility can be seen with the appointment of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as the leading candidate for the Surgeon General. What better than a physician with broadcast experience to reach out to promote health and prevent disease for the American people.

With the development of devices like the GoWear, the FitBit and the Nike+Plus, it is possible for consumers to start collecting their own bio-signs. And begin monitoring, analyzing and altering their behaviour. Like the accelerometers have proven with innovative  iPhone interfaces (think UrbanSpoon read about accessing the GPS and accelerometer APIs),  the importance is in the sensors and the data. The Canary Foundation (thanks WIRED) uses simple tests and data to identify cancer at it’s earliest stages. I wonder if the tools around heart rate, metabolism, sleep combined with social networking can be used to change behaviour and alter the courses for obesity, diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease.

What other automated data collection could your personal healthcare devices collect? How could it be used to improve your quality of life? Or reduce your risk of disease?

A Microsoft venture fund

Kevin Merritt has a great suggestion for creating a Microsoft venture fund. This is not new, I wrote about my displeasure with the proposed Yahoo! deal back. Kevin has thought about a YCombinator-esque microfunding model.
  • A three person team comprised of Ray Ozzie, Don Dodge and Dare Obasanjo would be the investment committee.
  • Anyone can submit a 10-slide business plan. No NDA protection, which is the norm in the VC industry.
  • Plans are reviewed once a quarter. Those that make it through the screening are invited to a 90-minute in person demo and pitch.
  • At the end of the 90-minute demo & pitch, the three-person Ozzie/Dodge/Obasanjo investment committee makes an immediate decision. It’s pass/fail. You’re in or you’re out. American Idol style. You’re going to Hollywood or you aren’t.
  • If you pass, here’s what you get: an investment of $100,000 cash plus $25,000 per founder, but never more than $175,000;  all the Microsoft software you need; unlimited, free use of Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure for 3 years; mandatory office space for up to 5 people for the first year in either the Redmond or Silicon Valley Campus; all the non-sense administrative support services that typically saps a startup, a collegial environment working with other Microsoft funded startups.
  • In exchange, Microsoft gets: 10% of the company in common stock with no special preferences or rights; your commitment to exclusively use Microsoft development software and operating systems for 3 years, other than with written exception by Microsoft; your commitment to deploy your software to Microsoft platforms first (i.e. if you build a mobile app, it has to run on Windows Mobile before iPhone).

That’s it. Quid pro quo. Startups need cash, tools, infrastructure and elimination of noise and distraction. Microsoft needs access to innovation and a future generation of folks building software with Microsoft development tools and to be run on Microsoft platforms. My bet is that Microsoft will flat out buy some of the companies during their year of incubation. And if you assume each startup will have 3 to 5 people, even the ones that fail will produce a good stream of folks who could easily become employees. Microsoft probably already spends $50,000 per hire anyway, so it’s not really costing them much if anything at all.

Oh, there’s one more important twist to help stem the tide of people leaving Microsoft to found companies or join startups. Microsoft employees in good standing having spent at least 2 years at Microsoft can quit their job and can be admitted into the incubator program with only a single approval from the investment committee. No business plan, pitch or demo are required. You’re in. Your prior contributions are your ticket. How many young entrepreneurs-to-be are willing to put in two good years at Microsoft just to get into the incubator program? I think more than a few. It’s a VC spin to the army college fund. It’s the Microsoft future entrepreneurs fund.

This is a great, well thought out plan for putting $25M to work. The biggest questions for me are: how does the model scale around the world? What are the implications with respect to existing anti-trust agreements and funding companies?  What are the areas, much like the Y Combinator 30 ideas, that are part of the initial investment thesis? It feels like without a clearly defined investment thesis that this is really a public relations campaign with entrepreneurial leaning technologists.

Dissident, Citizen

littlebrother-corydoctorow Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Thank you Cory for Little Brother. I can’t wait for my children to be old enough to read it. It has been a few years since I couldn’t put a book down and decided it was worth giving up sleep to finish. Cory has captured the feelings behind my mistrust of government and corporations. And the power they can exert over citizens, and the challenges when this power is abused.

You’ve inspired me to take action to protect my rights. The anti-circumvention provisions of the C-61 copyright amendment does more harm than good. It prevents crucial rights for citizens in a digital age. It prevents citizens from having the right to “use digital works without permission for research, private study, criticism or news reporting”. Michael Geist has posted 30  Things You Can Do to help reflect a consumer view of this amendment.

“The Industry Minister has time to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, time to meet all the major telcos on the spectrum auction issue, yet hasn’t made time to meet with user community on copyright.”

Bill C-61 scares me. It represents a shift in public policy back towards corporations. It reminds of the acceptance of monopolies and oligopolies that Canadians accept as tradeoff for our geography. The bill makes it an infringement to circumvent digital locks to prevent copying and distribution. To make it worse this bill prevents the distribution of the tools that can be used to circumvent digital locks. This means that watching a European purchased Region 2 encoded disc, like the legal copy of The Future is Unwritten I purchased from, in Canada is illegal under Bill C-61.

This kind of thinking is important no matter what side of security you’re on. If you’ve been hired to build a shoplift-proof store, you’d better know how to shoplift. If you’re designing a camera system that detects individual gaits, you’d better plan for people putting rocks in their shoes. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to design anything good.

Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even stupider. – Bruce Schneier

Help keep Canada free! Free as in freedom! We need to ensure we have the freedoms so that we can continue to think, explore, innovate, question and challenge authority and government in Canada.

Thank you Cory!

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Read more about this book…