Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Take heart

This is my favorite kind of innovation: The kind that requires no investment but careful thinking.

RtO has from time to time cited the most successful investment in history, the creation of the Black Ball Line just about two hundred years ago. And at one time, when I was a reporter, I used to award the Red Cellophane Prize for innovation that benefitted everybody but the innovator.

(It was modeled on a slick idea that a physician had some 40 years ago: Instead of requiring every hospital laboratory to purchase a $5,000 red-lens microscope for a certain kind of test, just wrap red cellophane around the 'scope that every lab already had. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking is not so common, so Red Cellophane Awards have not been made often.)

According to the New York Times
From 2003 to 2013, the death rate from coronary heart disease fell about 38 percent, according to the American Heart Association citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the primary federal agency that funds heart research, says this decline has been spurred by better control of cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced smoking rates, improved medical treatments — and faster care of people in the throes of a heart attack.
“It may not be long before cardiovascular disease is no longer the leading cause of death” in the United States, said Dr. Michael Lauer, the director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
 The red cellophane effect belongs to reducing the time to get people having an attack the correct treatment. For most attacks, that means within 90 minutes. It was achieved primarily by rethinking tasks: operational research.

The series is worth reading. This is why you should be reading newspapers (at least one).

My brother, an engineer, likes to tell the story about a car assembly plant where one in 25 new cars would not start. A new manager came in, called in the engineers and announced that from now on this plant would have 0 restarts.

The engineers nodded, took notes and started asking what budget the boss was allocating. This was a problem they could fix.

"No budget," said the boss.

The engineers protested. They were confident they could identify and correct the problem but it would take money.

It didn't.

When a car failed to start at the end of the assembly line, it was pushed into a repair shop nearby, where mechanics found the problem and corrected it.

The new boss moved that shop to the other side of the big parking lot. Faced with pushing thousands of cars hundreds of yards, the mechanics made sure the line workers understood how unhappy they would be if cars didn't start when finished.

Not all problems can be dealt with by the red cellophane approach, but all that can should be.


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