Administration and Leadership, Columns

What It Takes to Be an EMS Innovator

Issue 6 and Volume 40.

Each year at the EMS Today Conference and Exposition, through a special program sponsored by Physio-Control and JEMS, 10 individuals are recognized as EMS innovators. These innovators have usually done something new and inventive within the last year to change and make a difference–either nationally or within their own community–regarding EMS delivery.

I always wondered what prompts an individual to do something innovative and groundbreaking. What kind of thinking does it take for someone in EMS to be a pioneer or a disrupter?

Video Rental Model

When I think about what it takes to be a disrupter, I’m reminded of the story about Blockbuster and Netflix. The first Blockbuster opened in Dallas in 1985 as a brick-and-mortar store that rented videos. Viacom purchased Blockbuster in 1994 for $8.4 billion.

In 1997, Reed Hasting returned Apollo 13 six weeks late to Blockbuster and was dismayed to find out he owed a $40 late fee. So, in 1998, Hasting founded Netflix, and based his business model on renting DVDs online for as long as you want; when you’re done you put the DVD back into a postage-paid envelope and mail it back without late fees.

This totally disrupted the Blockbuster model, which had tremendous overhead with rent, utilities, maintenance, salaries, etc., at each store location and made significant revenue from collecting late fees.

In 2000, Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million dollars and they passed. Instead, Blockbuster signed a 20-year deal with Enron Broadband Services to deliver an Internet-based video-on-demand service in an effort to compete with Netflix. The next year, however, Enron filed for bankruptcy.

Over the years, Netflix has switched its focus from mailing DVDs to online streaming of movies and television shows. Blockbuster focused on the customer experience and hired 7-11 executives to help.

The entire process of selecting a movie to watch has been innovatively changed by Netflix. Instead of getting in your car and driving to Blockbuster, searching through the rows of titles and maybe not finding what you want, then standing in line to pay only to drive back at the end of the weekend to return the DVD, you can now pull it up on the Internet while sitting in the comfort of your home. Netflix has even started producing original programs like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.

By 2011, Netflix had surpassed 20 million subscribers in the United States and Canada–which is more than the entire population of Australia. In contrast, Blockbuster has now closed all it stores. Today, Netflix is valued at $20 billion.

Reed Hastings was an innovator and a disrupter. He strategically saw the future and thought outside the box. It’s imperative an EMS innovator has a similar strategic vision and the ability to think outside the box. You need to be able to see into the future and ask what can be done different and better.

Focused & Inspired

I always believe that if you wish to be an innovator in EMS, you have to be totally focused on the needs of the patients we serve. This means you’re not out to please your immediate supervisor or other high-level bosses in the EMS organization, but instead focus on what’s right for the patient and the EMS organization, bucking traditional trends.

EMS innovators also need to be very persuasive, with a knack for getting others to buy in or accept their ideas. They can’t be pushy and don’t try to force their ideas on others. Instead, they espouse ideas with passion and principle and others follow their energy. As a result, EMS innovators can inspire and motivate others through their actions.

Logically, you can’t innovate unless you feel inspired to create change. This truly creates a sense of purpose to make things better than what they are.

Sometimes the best form of flattery is others who imitate what your actions are. If you truly want to be an EMS innovator, step out and start changing those things you know can be done better; emulate those who’ve won the EMS 10: Innovators in EMS award. Start with a strategic idea of what needs to be improved or enhanced. Dare to motivate others to follow you as you make the changes and inspire others to also want to make things better for your EMS system or patient care.

One of the important things in life is making a difference. If you’re an innovator, you can certainly make a difference. The results can be fantastic.