The Surgery: Making the old new again
by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) Have you noticed how often in our industry we are consumed by the need to start afresh in lieu of focusing upon optimising that which we already have? Partly, it’s due to our agency business model and partly it’s the age range of our middle-management staff, but it’s also due to a misintepretation of the term “innovation”. Have we got it all wrong?
Our creative teams spend hours pouring over Kickstarter apps and the most-recent technological inventions in the search for something new and “innovative” upon which we can build our “next big idea”. The reality in healthcare, however, is that the old may so often actually be the new.
Confusing the definition
It’s worth remembering that much of the world’s wisdom in health is captured within history (recent or distant) yet, for some reason, we continually feel the need to reinvent and start again. While new invention has its place, I wonder whether our fast-paced world, and even faster-paced egos, are too keen to discover the new and shiny without spending time to learn from the past — and, in doing so, whether we have confused the definition (and role) of innovation altogether?
As an industry, should we not be focusing more of our energy into ‘alteration’ and ‘transformation’ as paths to innovating in consumer health? If you look it up on Wikipedia today, it will tell you that “innovation is a new idea, device or process” but I disagree. For the health of our global population, surely innovation should be deeply based in looking at the realities and activities of today, and yesterday, before we start spending all our energy looking at how we create the “new” things to come? Why is it that agency pride is so embedded in proving we can solve the tomorrow vs recreate for today?
When you look at it, true innovation is always alteration and not total reinvention. Given humans have healthily survived in society for 200 000 years or so, surely innovation in health needs to start by not blindly (and arrogantly) ignoring the past but building from it to better survive today?
Tech fused with a health issue
Last year, Samsung created the “BackUp Memory” app which smartly fuses technology with a health issue that 44m people globally are facing — the loss of their memory due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Is the technology a breakthrough capability or a brand new piece of technological innovation for Samsung? No, but then that’s not the point.
The point is that it looked inwards at the role of its brand in people’s lives and discovered a way to link their existing product innovatively with a disease that slowly destroys the lives of people worldwide by creating a valuable solution. In my eyes, this is exactly the definition of innovation and there is nothing “new” about the tech that delivers it. The brand automatically increases its utility, while the app changes lives (and wins Cannes Silver!), yet all the while it was the the existing medical insight became the brand opportunity.
Samsung didn’t invent something new to create something innovative. It wasn’t a breakthrough in tech but it was a breakthrough approach.
Well done to Samsung, I say. At its core, all innovation is something that is done by people for other people, with a noble goal to make their lives better. All other facets — ’new technologies’ and ‘fresh products’ — should be secondary to achieving this goal. Samsung’s success in leveraging its existing tech and making it great — truly making the ‘old’ new again — proves that the opportuniites to do so are endless.
As agencies, let’s embrace this and start looking backwards, to move forwards fast.
Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) leads global and regional brands at the GSK Fast Moving Consumer Health unit of Grey Singapore as global vice president. These views are her own and may not be attributed to the Grey Group. Her regular MarkLives column, “The Surgery”, tracks the trending betterment industry.
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