RamaOnHealthcare May 28, 2020

In part one of this series, RamaOnHealthcare and Mohan Nair explore the implications of COVID-19 on the industry as a whole.

RamaOnHealthcare Interview: 

Rama sat with Mohan Nair, SVP/Chief Innovation Officer of Cambia Health Solutions, to uncover his recent considerations with the COVID-19 impact to innovation. Being one of the longest standing Chief Innovation Officers in the country, his impressions were relevant to RamaonHealthcare as to the readers.

RamaOnHealthcare:  Welcome Mohan to our series.  Let me start with the more direct question to begin.  How has your life changed given COVID-19?

Mohan Nair:

Rama, first and foremost I wish for all our readers safety and confidence that our future will be better.  My life has transformed given my immediate family is here with me while my daily communications with extended family is overseas in two different parts of the world. My friends are all over the world and the dialogs are rich with experiences that bring us all together again with a common goal – to survive this crisis. My view of what is important has changed from obsessing over minor things to just obsessing over other minor things.  I wish I could have a pizza in a restaurant and just hear the sounds of people again.  I miss having my colleagues within reach at the office.  But equally I’m blessed to have the moments to ponder my work and life while I take a walk, that eluded me at work, during my day.

My work life is remote, like many others, and I’m surprised that the team I serve is working with a strength beyond COVID-19. We feel we have tamed the enemy within using our virtual and remote innovation methods to bring us back to the job at hand. But I never really considered remote working as an option for a high-performance innovation team. Now I realize that I was wrong. It can work.

It has been a personal journey of discovery, as an innovator, who believes anything is within reach by innovation. This journey is one that requires me to realize that somethings are beyond my control and tenacity; that the world crises has layers from health to economic to social and mental. It’s humbling but also transformative in ways I thought I understood but every day brings new learnings.

RamaOnHealthcare:  What are the implications for healthcare?

Mohan Nair:

Someone asked me recently about a strategic response to the current crises and I instinctively responded that the foremost strategy for people is not to get ill and, if so, not to die. Harsh as it may sound, that is foremost for all of us to realize in times of crises. Survive then thrive. As a former soldier in the Singapore Armed Services, I learned how to react quickly to crises but when it becomes prolonged and without information, I must really rely on my hope and my science to gain traction daily.  Healthcare workers have been elevated to the respected position they deserve in service of our humanity. They are the new soldiers of our healthcare lives. In one month, the world economy froze. That freeze is still among us and the connection among our economies, our personal health, our wealth and our community health has finally awakened us. We cannot deny this interconnection and now realize that my neighbor can save me or hurt me.  

RamaOnHealthcare:  What has really changed permanently, and what will return?

Mohan Nair:

Clearly everything we assumed has changed.  The deeper questions are around what are the cyclic changes that assume things will return and what are the structural changes that have changed forever to not return.  We thought the world was flat – that is interconnected but now we see exactly how interconnected both as humanity but also in supply chains that have been challenged. We can see that food won’t get to us if not for this interconnectedness. We realize that much of our drugs are manufactured elsewhere and that we are part of a whole tapestry of connections that bring food, safety and wealth to our world.  We now see that a sneeze in Japan has implications to others in Singapore, and that one disease can render us motionless.  Structurally, anything electronic and remote has been given new life as we all do things with distance. Companies that sell in a multi-modal fashion survive while those stuck on one way may be challenged unless its already electronic. Those of us who have held back on buying food online or depositing a check on line are now doing just that because the alternative is getting sick. Beyond the structural electronic shift, anything that renders us safer is now paramount from masks, to detergents or disinfectants.

RamaOnHealthcare:  How are you innovating during this crisis?

Mohan Nair:

First, I’m telling myself that this is a time of opportunity while in despair. I remind myself that times like these carve your character as an innovator and that it is my duty and instinct to learn like I can live forever, but live for today at the same time.    I have an innovation team that took pride in tight personal and intellectual connections and never believed remote working enables innovation. In fact, we did not believe it. We thought ourselves to be a team like the Navy Seals who worked in close quarters and could read each other’s minds and actions protecting our power to create culture and competencies with close proximity and coordination’s. Daily stand ups and design sessions and fast acting meetings in my office with random acts of creativity. All disappeared in one single week in March.  We are now innovating on the processes we now are using to innovate.

For a long while we incorporated balanced scorecard, OKRs for the month and quarters reported weekly. We instituted daily stand ups and reporting our work daily. It seemed by some to be overhead and somewhat process but now it is essential to driving momentum as a disciplined team focus on outcomes at a time of remote actions.  We are stronger now even though we are innovating from one home to another. We rely on trusting each other’s motives now more than ever. The downsides are still there and we miss each other’s three-dimensional views and have to be “zoomed” or “Skyped” into each other’s lives and thinking and some like it while others don’t.  We use tech to bring our minds closer. We use disciplined methods to communicate remotely to keep us accountable.

We also keep to creating new ideas in others in our company and also build and design daily to keep us active in the exercise of innovation and we have not stopped our push to serve our customers.

RamaOnHealthcare:  Do you see yourselves keeping the approach after you exit COVID-19?

Mohan Nair: 

Certain principles and approaches did not change. How we engage with each other is still there, how we run our business of innovation has not changed either because we took our approach and used it remotely. It can be sustainable innovation that way.  What has changed is our creative solution making. That is challenging as the ad hoc approaches have fallen prey to process oriented solution making and that removes the improvisations which frankly is key to bringing the real insights. I miss those movements where a humorous comment or a crazy drawing triggers insights. When we are remote we fall prey to organizing each other or being more formal in our processes losing our ability to relax and in a sense waste some time.

I’m working hard to not get the team to be so formatted that we reduce ourselves to innovation process and lose the rough edges of insight gathering and courageous choices to create the future.

RamaOnHealthcare:  What are the barriers?

Mohan Nair: 

Great ideas flourish in a place of courage and commitment to others. A dedication to remove the injustices we see in healthcare will fuel many who want to get it done. But when we are all thrown into a fish bowl and told not to leave, we become fishes wondering what it’s like to be free again. Yet we have to free our minds to think outside of the bowl and dream of new possibilities.

I think it’s ironic that we bring daily news and daily ideas from many people who are believing they can predict the future when they did not predict this future in the first place. So much for their ability not to be fish like us!  So, does anyone know the future we are to face?  What is our ability to predict the future choices? What is the innovation lighthouse to guard our future not crashing and what is our future north start to guide us to the new lands?  Well, i say it has always been our values and our purpose, which we now have to adapt to the present story. When the healthcare consumers encountered this crisis, they have taken life into their own hands and now realize that they decide how to be healthy. This is the missing issue in our healthcare system – the consumer joins the institutions and guides their directions to be consumer centered.  The power of consumers has finally surfaced where they now understand their self-reliance is as important as the system. The barriers to change and evolve are now much less than before.

RamaOnHealthcare: What is the role of the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) in healthcare given COVID-19?

Mohan Nair:

I’ve been interviewing to hire a VP innovation in my group and was surprised to get over 500 applicants and over 2000 views for a post I made. This all within a very short period of time. Many of the candidates were highly accomplished and in some of these interviews I had the opportunity to gather thoughts and views of what innovation means now to actual applicants.

Many now moved from money making to meaning making. The majority thought themselves perfectly fitting the role. When asked they thought innovation was one of the following daily work:

  1. Disruptive introductions to change the current healthcare system
  2. Business agility in incorporating startups and emerging businesses into a recipe for the consumer or stakeholders
  3. Managing and taming the culture of a larger organization into an innovation centered culture
  4. Working with stakeholders within the larger enterprise to enable innovation in their creation of products and service
  5. Create, design, build and deliver transformative solutions 
  6. Bringing the outside view from “google”-type innovation or “Amazon”-type ingenuity to the slower “sleepy” health enterprises.
  7. Lead a group of fast charging tech type innovators bring digital transformation that rivals the work in the commercial world narratives like buying a Tesla, or shopping via the internet.

All in all, I see hope in these interviews and their views of what needs to change. I think COVID-19 has fueled personal courage to take on and tame healthcare as we know it today. It has also brought about consumerism to the forefront.

Part two of two with RamaOnHealthcare and Mohan Nair.

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