How do you pitch an innovative idea? Portion control.

One of the key challenges in a new-ish area like digital health is not being too innovative when pitching new ideas. This piece from Derek Thompson does a great job of explaining the challenge:

Knowledge doesn’t just turn us into critical thinkers. It maybe turns us into over-critical thinkers.

That’s absolutely been my experience —  in NIH study section meetings, product pitches, and brainstorming sessions.

Thompson’s solution? Portion control.

Most people really don’t like new ideas that sound entirely new, particularly the experts that often have to approve them. The trick is learning to frame new ideas as old ideas—to make your creativity seem, well, not quite so creative.

How are fitness trackers like paper towels?


Chinese upstart smartphone maker, Xiamoi, had a Jobsian "one last thing" moment yesterday, releasing their first wearable. Shockingly, it's a fitness band.

Another day, another fitness band. — Me

So what's different about this one? The price.

It's $13.

Sure, it does lots of wonderful things. It lasts 30 days on a charge, it can unlock your phone sans password, it's waterproof, it's a "sleep" tracker, and apparently it also measures physical activity.

It's also $13. Otherwise known as commodity-ville.

Tracker makers know that the days of big margins for wearables with low cost innards are quickly coming to an end. Everybody's seeking differentiation. Have you seen the new Tory Burch's new line for Fitbit? No, really.

Xiaomi is launching the first salvo in what I predict will be a broader charge of low-cost wearables. Commoditization is great for digital health. For the market to thrive, we need to move beyond niche markets — quantified selves, fitness buffs, slightly-less-offensive-than-gifting-a-gym-membership — and get broad-based population penetration. I predict that we'll see these things [on discount] lining the shelves at your local drugstore. Just like paper towels.

Commoditization has another benefit for digital health. It will redirect the market's focus where it should be: on the software. After all, the challenge isn't the [data] collecting, it's the changing. Tracker makers have done an excellent job in developing cool tools for gathering data, but they've been much less creative in designing software that reliably improves people's health. And it's the software that offers tracker makers the greatest opportunity for differentiation.

The days of buying $13 wearables on double coupon day are coming. And that's a good thing, as it just might force the market to begin leveraging strong science to create software that turns trackers into the health promotion tools that we've been waiting for.

Think twice before listening to your users

Back in the old days when I was learning how to develop behavior change interventions, everyone started the same way: with the focus group.

However, of late, I’ve been seeing more and more scientists applying the same rules to their digital health interventions. When designing a digital health intervention, I think you have to be very judicious about when to use focus groups and how much weight to give the findings.


Two reasons:
1) Users don’t know what they want.
2) Users can’t comprehend the tradeoffs.

John Gruber just posted an anecdote that nicely captures the challenge (BTW — yes, it’s that Marissa. From way back in 2006.

Marissa started [her talk] with a story about a user test they did. They asked a group of Google searchers how many search results they wanted to see. Users asked for more, more than the ten results Google normally shows. More is more, they said. So, Marissa ran an experiment where Google increased the number of search results to thirty. Traffic and revenue from Google searchers in the experimental group dropped by 20%. Ouch. Why? Why, when users had asked for this, did they seem to hate it? After a bit of looking, Marissa explained that they found an uncontrolled variable. The page with 10 results took .4 seconds to generate. The page with 30 results took .9 seconds. Half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Half a second delay killed user satisfaction…

The lesson, Marissa said, is that speed matters. People do not like to wait.

Now, I suspect that focus group users could’ve articulated that they like speedy web pages. No one likes watching webpages load (even if we were more tolerant of slower speeds back in 2006). But, what if we asked those users how they prioritized speed? I think most would’ve said, “I’ll happily wait a bit longer for more/better results.”

The lesson?

Base your designs on what users do, not what they say.