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In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, Daan Kersten and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All five contributors are all working on technologies that can provide solutions to the problems of our time. This Sunday, it‘s Lucien Engelen’s turn.

Here are all the prior editions of [TOMORROW IS GOOD]

7 Years ago, we created the REshape Center for Innovation at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen. Based on a plan to explore this ‘new world’ outside where the internet was starting to roar, smartphones had their tipping point and people still had to come to the hospital for a chat at a table. 

Now I think it’s time to take a step back and look at the world as it is right now and (re)think the needed next steps. The outside world has a different speed than the inside world and that’s okay, sometimes. If the gap, however, is widening too much, and we not even use the new opportunities to solve “the sh#t of yesterday” as my friend Peter Hinssen said at Our Future Health conference we held (may 2016) nor focusing on the “day after tomorrow”, then a serious problem is coming up.  In a world where Apple increasingly takes its stake in health(care), Amazon clearly shows an uptick in its interest and action into healthcare, Samsung is working in Bio-similars and Alibaba starts offering free healthcare insurance, (the former is a collection of the news of the last 9 days) you might want to think twice before saying there is no burning platform for healthcare yet. 

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So, are we ready then, am I ready then, is this ‘it’? Nope.Lucien Engelen,

Lucien Engelen on the state of innovation

Lucien Engelen

Most what we wanted to achieve back in 2010 by setting the stage for REshape Center is in place through small(er) projects to test our ideas in our own ecosystem. As we speak there is the ongoing process to build an “innovation lab” that takes the prototyped solutions made from duck tape, paper, and paperclips and transforms them into a product that also works on Saturday-nights, is secure, and has a model to pay for it. We also spread the word, not keeping things to ourselves (to create PhD’s) but by sharing through creating awareness with lectures, conferences and debates. One of our latest endeavors is spreading the innovation virus through the Health Innovation School we co-created with the Dutch Ministry of health.

So, are we ready then, am I ready then, is this ‘it’? Nope. But now time needs to do its mojo as ‘we cannot make grass grow by pulling it‘. Digital health is becoming a reality, more and more tangible and research slowly kicks in. It’s not about “an app” or a portal, that is digitalisation while digital transformation affects your whole model of your service, often by services started by others. Since meanwhile the world has changed and is changing at an ever-growing speed in every corner of our society all things have become moving parts. So I really think we need to Re-think our REshape Center’s model again, we have to rethink the whole health model actually since we will face our own ‘copernican moment’ soon. The ongoing digital transformation has less to do with technical solutions than with a change of behaviour and leadership.

For 7 years I’ve been pushing the needle, creating awareness, scouting for opportunities, working formal and informal networks and having the pleasure of experiencing the joy and the impact that can be created, which is very energizing and very addictive as well. The dampening of energy by ‘structure’, ‘process’ and ‘doing things right’ instead of ‘doing the right things’ is on the other hand very real. It even can force your body and mind into a state of slow but sure decomposition and become de-energized, without even noticing it. Innovation is hard work, it is powerlifting, challenging both formal and informal networks in an organization while sometimes discussing the Christmas-menu with the turkey. Although having a stellar team, it also (sometimes) can feel very lonely.

This happened to me! When a next episode of kidney stones combined with Shingles, after-pain cumulating -including additional stress factors – quickly made me feel like 20 years older in a matter of weeks. Starting to become grumpy, sleepy and not able to focus. Being honest; now listening to my peers, family and friends many have seen this coming, not me. It took a while till the inevitable occurred and I had to choose without a choice.

So here I am: fixing my health first, RE-thinking the model thereafter will be my agenda for the coming months. Creating ‘space’ by a ‘functional medical sabbatical’, thus pulling back from everyday operations, should do the trick, I hope. My aim is to be re-energized again, then set the stage for the next level digital transformation strategy as the current pace, focus and paradigm aren’t enough anymore. We must rethink and adapt to the current state of the ‘outside world’ by making sure we can make ourselves obsolete, with that taking on a whole different mindset. If not; someone else will! Healthcare-demand will double and budgets probably will not rise if not the opposite. Being aware of the current tornado of developments all around us I’m convinced the current health(care) model is under ‘siege’ and that might even be the best thing that can happen to actually save healthcare. Once becoming aware of this one cannot make this unseen. So, we have to retract, retreat, refuel and then ‘step on it’, exponentially!

This is a very thrilling journey I’m on now, with all kinds of different exits, mountains, and valleys it seems. To me there is no good or bad outcome in this, it’s a path I have to take. At first, it honestly felt like ‘surrendering’, but it’s not! It is about being vulnerable and sharing all aspects of innovation with your community. From the moment I announced my step back heart-warming, supportive messages came about. Often from people who ‘have been there’ or from those who are struggling with the same. We keep on running, sticking to our (original) plan, not reflecting and changing our plan like we should and specifically NOT considering what is happening in our own society when it comes to our own business. It is always other peoples’ businesses that are going to be disrupted, while the burning platform is at your doorstep already. Hence wisdom of the past months 😉

I am writing my new book on the impact of the digital transformation (using healthcare as the case) and why innovation is though. The working title is “The end of the beginning” and the subtitle “We will be fine, in the end”. It will include my personal journey, what kind of leadership is needed for innovation in healthcare and some models to create an innovation center. What are the roadblocks, the formal and informal barriers and who are the true heroes of innovation? I read too many success stories about innovation and why “scaling-up”, “money” and “privacy” is getting in the way. Spoiler alert: IT’S NOT, I actually think there are several other (real) reasons why innovation is slow in healthcare. Second to that the digital transformation from outside of healthcare will ignite the real change soon, very soon. I hope to finish it by the end of the year. 

By sharing my experiences of this not often addressed side of innovation I hope to inspire others and would love to hear from journeys over at Patreon.

Stay healthy!