A conversation with Tama Duffy Day, Firmwide Health & Wellness Practice Area Leader at Gensler
This is part of my series on thought leaders in the innovation space. Check out the other articles here.
For Tama Duffy Day, community and curiosity have guided her throughout her career. Whether it’s a hospital waiting room or a new community healthcare facility, Tama believes design has a role to play. I talked to Tama about how design impacts health and why she thinks understanding the human experience is where innovation begins.
How design impacts health
Tama’s recent focus in the world of healthcare came amid an industry shift away from academic institutions and large hospitals toward more community-based healthcare where more could be learned about what’s needed to grow a healthy community.
“I didn’t necessarily set out to be innovative. I set out to learn and to understand and to make a difference and, through that, some innovative sparks are created.”
Tama has employed design for a broad spectrum of considerations from reducing medical errors by determining the proper lighting and atmosphere for nurses preparing medication to improving longevity through community education initiatives in places where access to healthcare, community, and fresh foods often determine an individual’s life expectancy.
Communication as a measurement
The nebulous nature of innovation can make efforts to measure success elusive. Tama shared that sometimes creating awareness is a worthy goal within itself and one that can garner organizational support for the long haul.
At the beginning of an engagement she explores how success could be defined beyond the typical measurement of revenue and how it might look as projects progress and goals shift. “I think at times perhaps all of us get a bit mired in looking at only one aspect of a project, you know, how much should the organization invest and how will the investment be returned.” What she’s found is that success can mean a number of things and vary at different stages.
In the early stages, success might be greater awareness for her work and philosophy. Last year she and her team invested time in creating blogs and podcasts and running think tanks and round tables to radiate information about their approach to innovation and the strategy behind healthcare design. Much of this was discussed through the lens of the Gensler Experience Index; a framework that aligns a customer’s intention through the understanding of expectation, interaction and physical space.
This year that investment is paying off with new forward thinking clients such as the Henry Ford Health System, Children’s National Health System, Rush University Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente and others, in the form of strategic planning around ambulatory health expansion. And the payoff has been twofold — her transparent approach to communication has created opportunities across the firm to advise on matters within their areas of expertise and make valuable contributions.
Passionate people are the core of innovation
According to Tama, “like-minded thinkers who are also passionate and driven by the topic” are a critical component for a successful innovation program. Even the seemingly unrelated passions of her colleagues have led to unexpected opportunities for connection that greatly benefit their work from a team building standpoint as well as providing new ideas through which their practice can evolve.
That flexibility and willingness to continually evolve from the original direction is another important characteristic of a successful innovation program. In Tama’s words: “…really allowing the path to shift, to have a direction of course, and to have an end goal in mind and to understand where you’re headed, but to understand along the path that it might change and to allow change to take place is a critical part of staying innovative.”
Using skills in new ways
Once you’ve built a team of passionate people, finding purpose within the work can propel the team to higher levels of commitment and motivation. Tama found her purpose in an unexpected place. Initially when she was assigned to her first project in the healthcare field Tama was concerned that her work in retail had been unsatisfactory. But that was far from the case and her concern was quickly replaced by fascination and a new found purpose.
“I attended the first symposium for healthcare facilities and I, along with others, helped shape the whole idea of healthcare design.” Having the opportunity to shape a new field and use her existing knowledge from the retail space to provide a new perspective in the healthcare world gave Tama an exciting reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Intuition in innovation
With a team of passionate people united by purpose, the foundation is set. To keep things moving in the right direction, the skill Tama values most is one that might surprise you. “I’ve learned that intuition is a real gift and so I’ve been really working on helping my team and my colleagues hone their intuition so that they also hear not only what was said, but what wasn’t said in the room in order to deliver amazing service.” In her experience, valuing intuition accelerates learning and helps her team uncover a plethora of non-verbal information that they can incorporate into their solutions.
“I’ve learned that intuition is a real gift and so I’ve been really working on helping my team and my colleagues hone their intuition…” —Tama Duffy Day
Evolution not revolution
For Tama, delivering amazing service is her primary goal and innovation is the byproduct. And when innovation does happen, Tama advises that it isn’t always immediately apparent, sometimes requiring distance and maturity to identify it. Looking back on her work with the Mayo clinic, Tama recalls wanting the satisfaction of seeing immediate changes. Now with some distance she sees its true value.
“Our work perhaps didn’t change the world, but it did incrementally modify and change how the Mayo Clinic looked at delivering certain portions of patient care over time.”
In learning to broaden her own definition of innovation, Tama sees an opportunity to reconsider how we celebrate it. “The breakthroughs and game changers get the spotlight a lot, but it’s not often that you hear about the incremental changes that result in sustained impact.”
“The breakthroughs and game changers get the spotlight a lot, but it’s not often that you hear about the incremental changes that result in sustained impact.” — Tama Duffy Day
Taking the mystery out of health
One project that would excite Tama would be to design a digital version of a patient’s medical record around the exam conversation—to take a little of the mystery out of health and the human body. “Imagine walking into your exam room and the entire wall is a graphic illustration of your medical record and you can touch on it, and move things around […] to see your own self in a way that isn’t such a mystery could inspire you.” Once again the themes of intuition and patient empathy surface as her team considers the question — what would a patient want to know and what would motivate them to improve their own health?
Her excitement about the impact data can have to inspire people goes beyond her own clients, too. Tama believes companies like 23andme are getting innovation right by inspiring human curiosity to learn more about themselves. “If we’re more curious and we understand that parts of who we are have come from all over the world, maybe we can understand and have more empathy in a more global view of life.”
If you want to read more articles with perspectives from innovation experts, check them all out here.