When solving problems our most effective tool is not our technical brilliance, it is our ability to create and sustain relationships. If a technical solution requires any element of human collaboration to make it work or to keep it working, then everything must start from a consideration of the relationships between the humans involved.
David Kelley in his TED talk on creativity tells the story of Doug Dietz a designer of medical imaging equipment or MRI and CT machines. He begins by explaining that Doug is a highly sought after designer and that his equipment has helped saved many lives. However Doug was devastated one day when visiting one of his machines to find a young family whose little girl was terrified and crying because she was about to be scanned.
Watch the talk here
Doug was shocked to discover that around 80% of kids being scanned in MRIs required sedation, making it a more expensive, more time consuming and, perhaps more importantly, a much riskier procedure. As David tells it ‘…Doug had previously been proud of his work but was hurt to think of kids being hurt.’ As Doug himself says, seeing the frightened child he felt ‘… kind of a failure.’
There was nothing technically wrong with the MRIs – they worked brilliantly – they were just very frightening to the children. Using the Satisfaction Triangle we could say the what was perfect; however as we know two thirds of an answer lies not in the what but in considering the procedural and emotional needs of those we are dealing with.
As David explains Doug was both a smart and a compassionate person. Using his empathy for the children he was able to change, not the machines, but the children’s experience of them. Doug created scan rooms that are adventures. He used paint, scents, lights and trained the technicians using techniques borrowed from children’s museums. One room became the ocean and the scanner a submarine, in another the scanner was a tent in a camping adventure. He painted up one MRI to look like a pirate ship and the technicians explained that the noise from the machines was the pirates looking for them so it they had to keep still and quiet.
These simple but powerful changes based on empathy for the children’s experience, or consideration of their emotional needs, led to the sedation rate dropping from 80% to 10% – saving hospitals time and money and making procedures much, much safer for the children. But as David explains Doug knew he had it right when he visited one of his machines and heard a very happy and excited little girl saying ‘Mommy can we come back tomorrow?’
We can find it hard to take other people’s emotional needs seriously. We have been taught to believe in facts and answers. But, as the Satisfaction Triangle highlights, facts and answers are substantive in nature and only one third of the equation. Taking seriously people’s emotional needs opens up new ways of seeing and understanding problems and this offers new ways of solving them. When we take these needs, and particularly the emotional and procedural needs, of others seriously we are creating a relationship between us.
There is no doubt Doug Dietz is a brilliant designer but his true brilliance came when he moved beyond his technical expertise and developed the wisdom to listen to and act with empathy for the emotional needs of children. He was definitely travelling with a triangle.