Outside the box

How leaders can fuel innovation: A disruptive CEO shares insights

Not Impossible Labs CEO Mick Ebeling, an OMED 2019 keynote speaker, shares the principles that guide his leadership strategy.

In America, 42 million people struggle with hunger. Mick Ebeling’s Not Impossible Labs is seeking to lower that number by innovating the process of providing meals to those who need them.

Pilot programs in three states, in which people can text “Hungry” and then receive a message back telling them where free meals are available nearby, have already provided more than 12,000 meals.

As founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, Ebeling has also used his mantra of ‘commit, then figure it out’ to spearhead many boundary-pushing projects that improve accessibility for people with disabilities. They include the Eyewriter, a device that allowed an artist who has ALS to draw using only his eyes, and technology to help a blind skateboarder navigate with his hearing.

Ebeling was recently named one of Fortune Magazine’s World’s Greatest Leaders. He will speak to DOs at OMED 2019 on Oct. 25 in Baltimore. Following is an edited Q&A.

What medical project have you worked on that you’ve been most excited by?

We launched the world’s first 3D-printing prosthetic lab in war-torn Sudan. That was one of the projects that really put us on the map in a much bigger way. Now we are working on projects for patients with Parkinson’s, memory disorders, cerebral palsy and gait issues.

Where do you see opportunity for growth in medical technology?

We’re living in a society, in a time, where so many things are accessible. You don’t need to work for a big corporation or have a ton of money to get the information and resources you need to build amazing things. Today, we have such great access to rendering power and information and even access to other people.

This access provides incredible opportunities. We’re working on something right now that draws upon the collective intelligence and information of the patient. It’s an AI project, but we’re calling it community intelligence.

While the doctors and clinicians are the medical experts, patients provide a unique perspective on their conditions. They are the ones who truly know what it’s like to live with the condition, and they have so much firsthand knowledge of it.

We’re going to collect and access the perspective and knowledge and insights of patients so that that information can be harnessed, digested and then shared with other patients whose circumstances are similar. All this patient knowledge is going to help us develop a very powerful resource that has the potential to help a lot of people.

What advice would you give to medical students and physicians who are interested in working on medical innovations such as the Eyewriter and 3D-printed prosthetics?

It’s important to get into a space where you can think outside the box as much as possible. We talk about beautiful limitless naivete. When you start a project, you might have ideas about what can and can’t happen, but you need to cast those aside and enter into the design process with a clean slate.

When we work, we try to always have the question in mind, ‘How can we explore and come up with something that’s imaginative and truly innovative?’

You’ve been recognized as a great leader. What advice would you give others on leadership?

Be the most humble person in the room. If you enter into relationships with people wanting to learn and contribute, and they in turn want to learn and contribute, then you have an incredible foundation upon which to move forward. On the other hand, if you start with predetermined beliefs and assumptions about the way things have to work, then you won’t facilitate innovation.

The way we see it, we are casting aside the nonsense and just trying to be incredibly human in our efforts. The more vulnerable and human we can be, the more successful we are.

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