Jeff Terry | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Terry


GE’s Healthcare Partners division specializes in global analytics and software programs that track a patient’s journey through a hospital or medical facility. They’ve pioneered the development of Command Centers within hospitals where specialists monitor all aspects of a patient experience and make recommendations to improve outcomes, save money and, in some cases, save lives.

The Mistake:

I learned the hard way what happens when you fragment the development and implementation of something totally new. Innovating with a new product in a company the size of GE can be a challenge.

This method works fine for making the updated version of something we’ve been building for years, such as MRIs and other body scanners. We have scattered teams working on software coding, sales and invoicing for these devices, making improvements and getting them to market. It requires a large team because of the scale we need to produce. While there’s innovation from version to version, the product remains relatively the same.  

But when it came time to create a Healthcare Command Center and all the software and analytics that go with that, we entered uncharted territory.

All the concepts are new. Even the terminology is different as the developers coin new words for what they create. A common mistake with large corporations, including GE, is they use tried and true methods by spreading the work out among various groups. They can’t pivot and before long they aren’t even speaking the same language. I liken it to a tower of babel phenomenon where people don't communicate properly so the project falls apart.

The legacy approach fails because there’s a disconnect between the various groups as they attempt to break new ground with a new product.  

If you’re successful, you can have the best of both worlds, the funding of a corporation and the innovative ability of a startup.

The Lesson:

To truly innovate, a small, dedicated team is needed. But therein lies the challenge. It’s so hard to create that startup environment with a small team within a company the size of GE, but this is the key to success. A fully integrated wing-to-wing startup is needed to really drive innovation.

This goes against everything that corporations stand for but it’s the only way. If you’re successful, you can have the best of both worlds, the funding of a corporation and the innovative ability of a startup.

It’s essential to come up with a fast-moving team that works on just this product so they can come up with their own language and terminology.

In our case, the team came up with the word “tiles” to refer to a certain part of the software within our analytics programs.

Once we did this for the Healthcare Command Centers, we were able to pivot and adapt quickly, making a first-of-its-kind product in the healthcare industry. These command centers, which resemble a NASA mission control, have been opened at several major hospitals, including John Hopkins Hospital, Rush University Center and Humber River Hospital.

Jeff Terry is on Twitter at @Jeffreyrterry.

Photo courtesy by GE Healthcare Partners. 

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