Lunch ‘N Learn with UHN Open Labs

Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | November 10, 2019


Healthcare is undergoing a paradigm shift and for the bright minds at OpenLab, the paradigm is to make a difference. 

OpenLab Manifesto: OpenLab believes in innovating responsibly with the user as the central human. Picture credit: 
This year we are launching Lunch ‘n Learn presentations by community partners from hospitals, industry, and design organizations about their work in health innovation. This program aims to promote creativity, innovation, and community building. We had an interactive session with UHN OpenLab as the first presenter of this series.  
OpenLab is a design and innovation shop dedicated to finding creative solutions that transform the way health care is delivered and experienced. It draws on the expertise and passion of people from a wide range of backgrounds. Dr. Howie Abrams and Craig Madho shared their innovation encounters and highlighted their work.  

Lunch ‘N Learn Event: Dr. Howie Abrams, Director of OpenLab sheds light on the metaphorical brick wall that acts as a barrier between innovative and operational leadership.  
“Innovation is integral to change in complex adaptive systems,” says Dr. Abrams explaining his take on how healthcare is often misinterpreted. By way of analogy, he explained that a Boeing 747 is complicated, while healthcare is a complex adaptive system. This system is a network of nodes and each node of this system has autonomy. This perspective helps in resolving the major challenges of innovation in healthcare.  
Dr. Abrams strongly believes in H. L. Mencken’s vision – “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” He is of the viewpoint that one must fail early and fail often in order to succeed sooner. “You don’t want to fail catastrophically but failures are how you learn.” Change in an adaptive system such as healthcare is equivocal, complex, and often needs multiple iterations before it can be implemented. “People don’t fear change, they fear chaos,” he believes. Trans-disciplinary and trans-media approaches set the precedent for open-source innovation, which in Dr. Abram’s opinion is the cornerstone for healthcare innovation.  

Lunch N’ Learn Event: Craig Madho, Research analyst and celebrated TRP Alumna shares his career trajectory and work at OpenLab.  
Craig Madho completed his master’s degree (MHSc) in the Translational Research Program within the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science. His capstone project involved working with the providers of nutritional education for cancer outpatients in order to assess the efficacy of the nutritional programs and revise the structure and/or material from a patient-centred perspective. He now works as a research analyst at OpenLab where he carries out research, analysis, and data interpretation in the context of project design. In addition to this, Craig informs early-stage project design and assists with ongoing research and project management needs.  
“A huge part of being at Openlab is learning what you don’t know,” says Craig about his time at UHN OpenLab. He learns something new every day, but the skills he swears by are tenacity, creativity, flexibility, and the ability to deal with failure. He agrees with Dr. Abrams’s view and sees failure as an essential stepping stone towards success. Though in his opinion, failure should be transient, however, it’s lessons should be everlasting – “You have to deal with failure but you have to deal with it quickly.”  
This session ended with an intriguing discussion and culminated in a resounding thought – Having and maintaining human connections is key when you’re trying to innovate.