Converging for Convergence

The power of convergence and the promise of new solutions that arise from interdisciplinary work has been understood for a while.  Larta itself has been exploring and discussing, in its commercialization practice and its Showcase platform, the prospect of originating creative solutions through the coming together of technologies developed in multiple, hitherto unrelated domains. Examples abound: data science and engineering combine to solve challenges and make farming more efficient, impacting not only the bottom line, but local communities. For example, Sharklet Technologies, a Larta NIH CAP alumnus, adapts novel film pattern design (based on dermal denticles of shark skin) to inhibit bacterial growth in endotracheal tubes and other surfaces. In our own backyard, the newly launched USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience is focused on the premise that collaboration among various disciplines can lead to the development of life saving devices and therapies.

But how would you go about deliberately seeking to provoke such convergent solutions? We know that seeking novel solutions arising from convergence requires creating an environment where people can surface problems, can then feel free to suggest bold, hairy and audacious approaches (while factoring in the possible constraints and the thinking of existing stakeholders) in such a system, and then propose and iterate the kernel of a possible solution over and over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

A Hackathon for Bioscience experts

In planning such an experimental approach, Larta Institute partnered with Triple Ring Technologies, a leading R&D firm, to  create “Drugs, Devices and Digits,” a design thinking-inspired “hackathon” our new office conference complex in DTLA’s South Park . We sought to harness the creativity of people with expertise in diverse fields, to provide some context through spotlight presentations and to push for maximum interactivity. We convened an energetic and impressive group of participants from across the state to be part of this exercise.

To kick off the interactive event, Brian Wilfey and Sunil Maulik from TRT provided striking examples of how behavioral design is at play in wearables and Health-IT. They also laid ground rules by providing context to how we would organize for the day, starting with the phrase “how might we…” to generate problem statements. As self-described innovation agitators, they provided tips on how we might  target and sketch, evaluate and select, and finally, present our solutions.

Guest speaker, Gunjan Siroya, from Netspective Communications and an accomplished  Larta Principal Advisor, provided a frank “No BS/No Hype” talk on devoting more time to the needs of customers, rather than obsessing with what we want to build. As originally conceived by Shahid Shah, the founder of Netspective, and a friend of Larta, they have come to use the notion of “inflective innovation” as the fundamental approach to creating, taking the time to define desired outcomes and thus to influence demand.  This is stark contrast to the customary approach of “reflexive innovation,” that reacts to the equation of supply and demand by “doing crazy faster.” He provided examples of how inflective innovation can be applied in healthcare in the payer technology environment, data comprehension arena, and new approaches to care.

A meeting of the minds

We organized into 3 teams, each charged with discussing and developing a product/service thesis based on an identified problem. The result of our daylong effort was an impressive set of approaches that ranged from reducing chronic pain while also reducing opioid use, scaling up individualized medicine for chronic or episodic disease faced by patients of traumatic brain injury (unrelated to the primary injury), and microbiome characterization for individuals to improve response to therapies or clinical work on obesity.

The interactions were vibrant, open, mildly contentious, humorous—what you would expect when you bring diverse people together. It was remarkable that all teams developed compelling (and surprisingly well fleshed out) presentations around each problem-solution set.

Innovation with an eye toward behavioral design is tough,  best summarized by a phrase Gunjan shared with the group: “your ideas are feared by permissions-oriented institutions, they’re trying to simplify while you’re trying to differentiate.”

Hats off to everyone in our tight-knit, merry network of friends who participated, the TRT team, and the Larta team for arranging this thought-provoking gathering.

Unexpected things happen at the fringes. 

Purposeful convergence is enabling this to happen. In the coming year, Larta Institute will engage our network around topics of local and national interest that align with our mission - equipping innovators who develop solutions that Feed, Fuel, and Heal the world.

Furthermore, we’re proud of the organizations that have come together with us to realize this shared vision, like the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, LA BioMed, the City of Los Angeles, and many others.

On a side note, we will feature some of the “Feed, Fuel and Heal” solutions we have worked with in our commercialization programs at our Open House on Friday, December 1.  Feel free to drop by that day from 11am – 3pm.  Come and meet the whip-smart Larta team and converge with us on some light refreshments. We want to meet you!