Innovating Around Sacred Cows

Recently, I was listening to Hugh Hewitt interview Clayton Christensen about his book, Innovator's Prescription in which he makes a case for using rules-based therapy in the treatment of healthcare events.  (Essentially, by asking a series of questions the cause of many health issues could be correctly diagnosed and treated by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. This would result in more efficient, less expensive service and the freeing up of doctors to focus on more complex health problems.)


When asked if people would accept rules-based therapy and treatment administered by someone other than a doctor, Christensen’s response took me by surprise.  He replied that the next generation will accept rules-based diagnosis more than they will a doctor’s intuition.


What was so surprising was not the premise that subsequent generations will embrace things and practices not accepted today – there are many examples of that progression of behavior.  What caused me pause is that I had always assumed people would want a doctor rather than a skilled medical technician as immutable – a sacred-cow-like premise that would never change.


Whether Christensen is right or not really isn’t the relevant issue for this posting.  Rather, it’s what other “sacred cows” actually aren’t.  And if they aren’t sacred, what doors then open to innovation that previously have been closed?


In hindsight it’s easy to spot cows that have been held sacred in error, and as a result held back innovation:

  • The world is flat.
  • The earth is the center of the universe.
  • Effective communication must take place in person.

Looking back, they seem almost comical. But what about current-day sacred cows?  Consider what innovation might be possible if these were no longer immutable truths:

  • Green living is inconsistent with living inexpensively.
  • Aging is inevitable.
  • Economies are driven by commerce.
  • Personal information should remain personal.
  • Home ownership is forever.

Who knows whether viable ideas might come from challenging these sacred cows. Regardless, it’s a good reminder to identify our assumptions, no matter how absolute they seem, and challenge them regularly to achieve truly breakthrough innovation.

- Gwen Smith Ishmael

Print | posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 3:25 PM


# re: Innovating Around Sacred Cows

Left by Paula Thornton at 9/14/2009 11:14 AM
Gravatar I've become more sensitive of recent to looking for questionable assumptions. One jumped out at me here: "more than they will a doctor’s intuition"

While I'm lacking the context of having read Christensen's new book, and while I agree that intuition would hold greater value, I believe that the evidences are skewed as Clayton suggests for a very good reason: doctors are not very good at intuition.

Why? Because in reality intuition is a strong sense of pattern matching. While doctors are trained to match evidences to patterns, I find that they are really bad at gathering evidences. It's not really their fault...there are too many relevant evidences necessary and they are unsupported by really intelligent systems that allow for a continuous vision of their patients (never mind the patient in front of them is often someone they've never seen before or have no history on).

I'm guessing that Christensen covers a lot of this in his book.

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