The blinding glimpse of the bleeding obvious

A few days ago, I was reading a book about how ideas stick. What happened next shows just how sticky they can be.

This is the passage from the book:

A few years back, a group of hospital administrators asked the design firm IDEO to help improve the hospital’s workflow. The team at IDEO knew that they would probably face a lot of internal resistance to their recommendations. The first step in motivating the hospital staff to change was to get them to realize that there was a problem and get them to care about it.

Video still - patient's eye view of a hospital ceiling

IDEO created a video, shot from the perspective of a patient who goes to the emergency room for a leg fracture.  In the video, we see what the patient sees.  We are the patient.  We come in through the door to the ER – we hunt around for check-in instructions and interact with the admissions people, who are speaking in a foreign medical tongue.  Eventually, we are laid on a gurney and wheeled through the hospital.  We see long stretches of the hospital ceiling.  We hear disembodied voices, because we can’t see the person addressing us.  Every now and then, someone pokes his or head into our field of view.  Frequently there are long pauses where we just sit idle, staring at the ceiling, unsure of what’s coming next.

Jane Fulton Suri, a psychologist at IDEO, said that when the hospital staff was shown the video it had an immediate impact. “The first reaction was always something like ‘Oh, I never realized…'”  Suri says she likes the word realized.  Before the hospital workers saw the video, the problem wasn’t quite real.  Afterward, she said, “There’s an immediate motivation to fix things.  It’s no longer just some problem on a problem list.”

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick, pp 201-202.

A couple of days later, I was giving a presentation and stressing the importance of understanding services from the customer’s point of view.  I hadn’t thought of mentioning this story and it wasn’t part of my presentation – but it seemed worth telling, so I told it.  At the time, I am not even sure I could easily have said where I had come across it.

A couple of days later again, I was asked by somebody, who had not been at my presentation, whether she could have a copy of the video clip, as she had heard that it had been very powerful and wanted to use it elsewhere. So somehow, my third hand retelling of the power of a video I had never seen had taken on a life of its own.

Paul Bennett speaks at TED

I wondered whether I might find the video online somewhere.  I couldn’t, but I did come across a talk by Paul Bennett, one of IDEO’s designers, which included a blurred clip (just how exciting is a video of a hospital ceiling going to be anyway?).  The talk is only fifteen minutes long, but it’s powerful stuff.  It’s about customer insight, continuous improvement, the power of small changes, and why a furniture designer might sit under a table.

When you lie in a hospital bed all day all you do is look at the roof.  And it’s a really shitty experience.

Looking at the situation from the point of view of the person out, as opposed to the traditional position of the organisation in, was for these guys quite a revelation.

But his wider theme is that if we look at the world differently, we will see new solutions.  Or as Bennett puts it

The blinding glimpse of the bleeding obvious.

We should go looking for it.