How to move mountains

March 23, 2017

Jan Janssen, Senior Vice President of Design & Development at Cochlear, takes a look at the multidisciplinary collaboration that underpins the world’s most sophisticated solutions.

multidisciplinary approach

Collaboration has long been identified as an important requirement for success in business and indeed wider society. As the world changes, however, this requirement is changing too, and in many instances it is not just important, but vital for success.

Those organisations that struggle to make it central to their operations can be at a serious disadvantage. It is a case of collaborate or crumble.

We live in a world that is very complex and getting more so. This means today’s societal challenges are also getting harder to resolve. And as much as we would like simple solutions to complex problems, they usually don’t exist. Sophisticated, multi-faceted solutions are more often the only way to address complex challenges.

At Cochlear we are very familiar with such a challenge: hearing loss. Hearing loss is already a recognised global public health issue, with the World Health Organisation estimating that over 360 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss.

It is a health issue with significant medical, social and economic impacts. And with populations in many countries getting older, the problems are likely to get amplified.

Addressing the hearing loss challenge requires a sophisticated, multidisciplinary approach. The technology challenge alone involves over 30 different science and engineering specialities required to develop an implantable hearing solution that addresses severe to profound hearing loss.

And that is just the product, which on its own won’t do anything. It needs to be clinically validated for different age segments and approved by more than 20 regulatory bodies around the world. Policy makers and health insurers need to be convinced of the technology’s efficacy in order to improve access and funding. And we need to work with industry organisations, consumer groups, government and media to elevate the importance of hearing loss and the treatments available.

This of course can’t happen by a single person or team – it requires collaboration between numerous disciplines and professionals who contribute to different parts of the problem at different stages.

As we work to address more complex problems, we are also facing a paradox: on the one hand we need deeper and deeper expertise in specific areas because breakthroughs in one specialty area can have huge impacts on the total solution. And on the other hand we need some breadth too – specialists who can reach out from their niche to the broader teams that they are working with, both locally and globally, to understand the big picture problem and to help construct the end-to-end solution. Collaboration and being able to connect the dots are critical skills as they allow the solution to work in the real world.

Collaboration is vital in today’s world. It enables problem solvers to work together, extract value from diverse speciality areas and focus on large, important challenges. Without it we would crumble, but with it we can build a better future.

Jan Janssen

Senior Vice President, Design & Development, Cochlear

Read next: Professor Ken Baldwin, Director of the Energy Change Institute at ANU and founder of Science meets Parliament, offers a way forward for evidence-based policy in Australia.

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