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The same old job spec? Not really

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  By Jim Gibson, May 25, 2012

I spent part of last week in southern California, the center of the rapidly emerging wireless health sector. It was an enlightening week, and it got me thinking about how we develop job specs and what we expect from our executives.

Let me connect the dots. I had an interesting discussion with one of the major players, a man directly and indirectly responsible for much of the direction and momentum of wireless health. This gentleman is at the center of it, dealing with all the key constituencies. Owing partly to his unique vantage point, and partly to his intellect and powers of observation and deduction, he observed how amorphous wireless health is. It's different from traditional health IT.

We in health IT have a default position in our thinking. When considering new technologies or new business models, the starting point is the status quo, and the change is viewed as incremental. The increment may be sizable, but the change is still incremental. We view the new from the perspective of the old.

This is quite natural and normal. But it's also limiting and leads to slow change. It's the old "evolutionary vs. revolutionary" discussion.

This makes it tempting to think of wireless health as moving apps from the computer to the tablet and phone. That's a good, albeit obvious, application of wireless technology. But wireless health is so much more than that, and so much of it is not obvious.

Our conversation turned to how it's being embraced by unlikely candidates, such as capital equipment manufacturers, big pharma, consumer products companies, and even online gaming companies. Probably more than any other area of healthcare, wireless is a convergence of previously unconnected disciplines, historical orientations, and market interests. The lines are rapidly getting blurred.

Naturally, given my parochial view of the world, we talked about the implications of this for finding and hiring executive talent.

Since this is an emerging sector, the sources of market opportunities are unpredictable. It's all new, and there is no blueprint to follow. The companies that enjoy disproportionate success will have open-minded, creative leaders at the top. These execs will have the rare ability to assess their experience and knowledge and distinguish between what should be applied to this new venture, and what must be tucked away. They will need to abandon past prejudices about what works and what doesn't and be able to recognize new market opportunities, whatever their disguise.

And they will need to be willing to take a risk. Pursuing an unconventional opportunity almost always involves risk. Besides creativity, it requires confidence, determination, and no small amount of salesmanship. These traits will be coveted by progressive, and ultimately successful, companies.

As importantly, these new leaders may come from unexpected backgrounds. A life sciences company may look for an exec from the gaming industry. A pharmaceutical company may pick someone with consumer products experience.

If surprising on the surface, these appointments won't be random. They'll be the insightful decisions of organizations committed to innovation. When these companies need to fill key roles, they won't be held back by biases.

Ironically, this fresh thinking could also benefit traditional health IT organizations. Healthcare is going through such an upheaval that it's hard to think of one area that's not undergoing rapid change to its fundamental business model. Tomorrow's successes will view this turmoil as opportunity, and will embrace the change with a fresh perspective.


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