Going on the Offensive in an Uncertain World

We can see the power of math in upending healthcare, an industry as legacy as they come. As the Affordable Care Act sharply accelerates trends already under way, aggressive companies are using sophisticated software and algorithms to help shape the industry transformation rather than become victims of it.

Des Moines-based UnityPoint Health, for example, is investing talent and funds to build an infrastructure of digitization, algorithms and software that integrates aspects of patient care from various departments and centralizes the collection and analysis of patient data, to which nurses and other providers have instant access.

“The most sophisticated data-mining software won’t replace an intuitive feel for the customer and what he or she really wants.”

4. Still, remember that the consumer holds the key. The most sophisticated data-mining software won’t replace an intuitive feel for the customer and what he or she really wants. The human mind still is unsurpassed at making connections and generating hypotheses that can then be tested. Even the UPS’ sophisticated algorithm-based On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation System was designed to be overridden by drivers when necessary.

A feel for the consumer can only be honed by observing consumers firsthand, as Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and countless others were famous for doing. This is not a quaint pastime; it is a necessity for staying relevant.

5. Get comfortable with uncertainty. Your tolerance for ambiguity and risk will be tested, because going on the offense almost always requires taking action before you have a crystal clear picture of all the factors your success will depend on. As CEO of Thompson (now Thomson Reuters), Dick Harrington was a broad thinker with a finely tuned antennae for picking up signals about the outside world. Thomson, owner of what was then the world’s largest newspaper chain, was still profitable and performing well in the mid-1990s, when Harrington concluded that the rise in Internet usage would inevitably cripple Thomson’s largest source of revenue: the sale of classified ads and display ads in print media.

With the storm clouds still far on the horizon, Thomson prepared to exit newspapers altogether. A defensive mind would have seen gloom and doom in the rise of electronic media and might have sought to buttress the print business. Harrington’s mindset for offense saw the opportunity to build a business based on something new, and put the company onto a new trajectory ahead of others. That does not mean you have to be the very first in a segment; the world doesn’t change the day a technology is invented. But don’t confuse patience with a frustrated desire for certainty.

Barnes and Noble got caught waiting too long to see where online commerce was going, and as a result, lost much ground to its born-digital rival, Amazon.