Transformation Archetypes — Part 4

A year ago, I bought an iPhone.  About six months ago, I switched from a PC to a Mac.  A few months ago, I began to use texting and now frequently rely on this means of communication.  Now, I am writing a blog.  My colleagues think that I have a chance of actually making it into the 21st century.  I am not sure – I am not that keen on Facebook and I still fancy cars from the 1940s.

Information and communications technologies seem to be transforming how we work and live.  The web is pervasive – right now, I am on a flight to Detroit, answering email on my laptop.  Social technology, smart phones, and perhaps even e-books enable a highly distributed and mobile workforce.  The same technologies enable highly connected personal lives.

Consider this candidate transformation in terms of the three ingredients identified as important to the Renaissance – creativity, resources, and flexibility.  My sense is that we score highly in terms of creativity as Amazon, Apple, Google, and many others provide a steady stream of new possibilities.  Working on a college campus, I see many inventive uses of these technologies, ranging from applications to support chronic disease management to performing arts initiatives.

As for resources, money is quite tight right now.  The investment monies available during the Internet bubble in the 1990s have not been around for this decade – and the last couple of years have been much worse.  While the housing bubble created a lot of wealth, at least temporarily, I don’t sense that the bulk of this flowed into technology investments.  So, we do not score too highly here.

This leaves flexibility.  Clearly, people are quite open – worldwide – to adopting these technologies.  However, are we as a society as open to changes in the nature of work and personal life?  This is difficult to answer in general.  Instead, let’s return to earlier discussions of healthcare.  There are substantial and powerful forces against transformation of healthcare, for example, in terms of information and communications technologies enabling people to play major roles in managing their own health.  We need people to help significantly in managing their chronic diseases, but many key stakeholders see such developments as undermining their sources of revenue.

Many of these key stakeholders in healthcare delivery have made major investments to optimize their business practices for the way that the system currently operates.  Moving towards paying for health outcomes rather than fees for services — enabled by information and communications technologies — is a threatening prospect for many key stakeholders.  They need things to stay the way they are.  This is a hallmark of a lack of flexibility.  There is a similar lack of flexibility in many of our complex public-private enterprises – education and defense, as well as healthcare.

Yet, there are some bright prospects, as illustrated in Tom Friedman’s editorial “The Do-It-Yourself Economy” in last Sunday’s New York Times.  He discusses two companies that had to accelerate change, using the technologies noted above, in order to stay in business – survive.  They changed the ways they did business because they felt they had no choice.  Sounds a lot like the shipbuilders who stopped building with wood because they could not get enough wood any more.  Perhaps the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” can be morphed into necessity is the mother of reinvention.  If many pundits’ projections are right, healthcare will be encountering lots of “necessity” in coming years, so perhaps a Renaissance in healthcare will emerge.

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