Product Development, Changing Behaviors, and Innovation Health with Kevin Strauss, Author of Innovate The 1%

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On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Kevin Strauss, Author of Innovate The 1%. We talk about Kevin's experiences creating products in the biomedical space, as well as his background as the founder of Uchi, a social app designed to strengthen relationships and behaviors. We also talk about the importance of both mental and physical health in the innovation process. Let's get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive, in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Kevin Strauss, Author of Innovate The 1%

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Kevin Strauss. He is the author of Innovate The 1%: Seven Areas to Nurture for Success. Welcome to the show, Kevin.

Kevin Strauss: Thanks a lot, Brian. I'm glad to be here.

Brian Ardinger: Hey, I'm excited to have you on the show. You are a innovator, an author, emotional health and wellness expert. Founder. How did you get involved and excited about this whole innovation space.

Kevin Strauss: I think it's a combination of a few things. And I really have to bring it back to my father. As a kid, and for the first 18 years of my life, I would just follow him around and be his little helper and we would just get into every kind of project around the house possible.

And that led to the engineering degree and just problem solving. And not only problem solving, but coming up with other ideas, because my dad would do that a lot. Where he would just want to do something in the house. It wasn't solving a problem, but it was just creating something that he wanted to see, you know, in the home.

So, I think that's where it really got started.

Brian Ardinger: You have a little bit different career. You're not in the software space per se. And you spent a lot of time in the health tech space. So, give us a little background on how you went from engineering to where you are now.

Kevin Strauss: It started with engineering. He always loved the mechanical side of things, but I've always been fascinated with the human body and like how it all works and everything. That's when I went straight to a biomedical engineering degree, and I just love all that. Ended up getting like a dream job out of graduate school designing total hip replacement. So that launched me into medical device.

But then there was a time that I was working at a company, where we were doing a lot of grant research. And these grants were funded by NIH. And we would come up with ideas, whatever they happen to be, and propose them. And if we won the grant, we'd do the research with the ultimate hope of bringing it to US society as a product, as a company.

And in that time, I was thinking a lot about my dating life, which wasn't working out so well back then. And I was trying to figure out why my dating life wasn't working out. You know, I boil it all down to self-esteem of the people I was dating, but then 15 years later, figuring out it was my own self-esteem issues. That was also part of the problem.

And it's putting all of that together and understanding why people do what they do. In 2001, it really boiled to the top where I had an epiphany that it seemed to me that most arguments occurred because people weren't sharing their true thoughts and feelings. Right.

And that really took me into this other direction. We were doing some human behavior modification work at that company with the grant research. But I just kept pursuing that on my own. And with the work I was doing at the office. And trying to understand why people do what they do. Why do I do what I do?

Where's all this behavior coming from? And that led me down a 20-year rabbit hole, which is understanding human behavior, which I really attributed to emotional health. It sent me down that path of emotional health and relationships and connection, and that's what's really driving behavior, and that's what led to the Uchi App, which is a tool to help strengthen relationships.

Brian Ardinger: Your background again, you've been in product development. You have 80 patents to your name, I believe. And peer reviewed in a variety of different areas. And so, you've been at the forefront of taking an early stage idea and creating products around it. It's interesting to see the pivot that you've made into the human side of that. And it's not just about figuring out what feature to build or whatever, but it's about the team and it's about other things. So maybe talk a little bit about the book, Innovate the 1%, and some of those areas that we need to nurture, whether we're developing a product or developing a dating life.

Kevin Strauss: The book became this like 20 years, 30 years of my career and everything that I've learned in, solving problems, and bringing products solutions to fruition. But when I actually sat down to finally write the book, I ended up writing the book in 39 days because it was just dumping, like brain dumping everything down. So, when you have an idea and you start executing on it, that actually happens to be chapter seven of the book, which is Strike While the Iron is Hot.

If you've got an idea, write it down. Talk it out with people. Play with it. You know, don't let it just, oh, I'll remember that later. I can't tell you how many ideas I've had, you know, in the middle of the night or driving, and I'm like, oh, I'll definitely remember this. This is amazing. And then I completely have no idea what that idea was.

But you know, the first chapter is where it gets started, which is identify the problem first. Until you identify the true root problem, you're not going to actually solve it. And so often what we're doing in society is we think we know the problem, but it's actually just the symptom. And that's what behaviors are. Behaviors are only symptoms of a deeper problem. And what I learned in my career is once you identify the true root problem, the solutions are usually shockingly simple. And that's how I've been able to come up with like 80 patents.

Brian Ardinger: Can you gimme some examples of how you go through that particular process to pull away the onion and figure out what is that core root problem?

Kevin Strauss: So, asking why. And I think there's like different schools of thought, like three whys or seven whys. I probably ask like 50 whys. You know, like I just don't ever stop. Like, is this really what we're trying to get to and talk to the right people about it. You know, I mean, for a lot of these medical devices, it's not just about talking to the surgeon, right? The orthopedic or neurosurgeon when it comes to all these spinal implants and all. It's talking to the scrub tech, the nursing staff.

You know, we would have meetings with the central supply at a hospital because central supply is the one who cleans the instruments. And if they can't clean the instrument properly, you know, you could transmit infection and that's terrible.

You have to dig into all these different areas and keep asking why and find out what is really the problem that you're dealing with that needs to be overcome. And again, so often we are looking for these shiny, flashy solutions that look really cool like implants. You know, it takes like a hundred instruments to get that one implant into the body. That's a lot of questioning and thinking and experimenting and failing. Oh my God, I mean tons and tons of failing in order to get to the solution.

Brian Ardinger: And that's a great point too. I think a lot of times, and it's probably even more so in, in your industry, where this idea of failure, especially in a big corporation and that, people don't like to fail. And that's why a lot of people don't innovate. Talk about the difference of how the perception of failure and the execution of what you do after failure in a, like a medical device type of environment where if you fail, lives are on the line, potentially. Talk about that and the perceptions in that industry around failure. And how do people get over it to actually innovate.

Kevin Strauss: We talk about fear of failure, right? Like fear. To me, the fear, well, for one, it's justified like we fear, but what are we actually fearing? Are we fearing failure? Are we fearing an idea that just doesn't work? It's not about the idea. The real fear that I think we're struggling with, especially in the workplace, is shame, judgment, degradation, or neglect.

You know, we're afraid that if we come up with a bad idea, and again, like 99% of ideas suck really. We're so afraid that we're going to be judged or shamed. And I do talk about this in the book. If we're going to be judged or shamed, well, you only need a couple of examples of being judged and shamed and it hurts, right?

And like, oh, I'm not going near that pain again. That emotional pain. So, I'm just not even going to try. And we just take it out of kids, even in like kindergarten and first grade. We already start to teach them to fear failure because we judge and shame them for their failure. And it's even worse in the workplace because then your job is tied to it and your salary and earning a living and putting a roof over your head and food on the table, and taking care of those that you love.

You know, we're fearing these things because we've been trained as little children. That's one of the big things that needs to change in the workplace so that you don't fear the failure because you're going to fail. I can't tell you how many times that we've failed. You don't come up with 80 ideas and get 80 patents. Like that just doesn't happen. And you know, remember I didn't do all these patents by myself, right? It's a team.

In the workplace, it needs to be acceptable to fail. Like you're not going to hit a home run every single time you have an idea. And it's through these bad ideas and there are bad ideas. And I hate this idea, they're like, oh, there's no bad idea. Well, that's completely false. Most ideas are bad. But what do you do with that? Where can you go with that? Because there are so many times when a bad idea, I mean an awful idea, gets flipped around from someone else's perspective and they turn it into a rockstar innovation.

And the only way that you not having this fear, this emotional pain, the fear of judgment and shame and being degraded or losing your job is by having strong relationships. If you value each other for just the human being that you are and for your skill set. Because your skillset's different than my skillset, but when we bring it together, that's when the magic happens. And it's okay to have a terrible idea, but you're not a terrible person, right? It's just a terrible idea. And that's okay.

Brian Ardinger: You mentioned your 80 patents and that. Innovation is a collaborative sport, and nobody can, you know, build everything by themselves. So how do you foster that team environment that is safe for failure and safe for experimentation?

Kevin Strauss: Leading by example. Sucking myself. You know, I mean, I remember one time I was driving to work, and I had like a 75 minute commute to the office, you know. So, I had a lot of time in the car. So, I'm thinking and thinking and I'm, there's this one time I was coming to work and I had this amazing idea and I was working it all through. I was like figuring out the details and, oh, and it can be manufactured this way and it, and it'll be no problem with regulatory affairs. You know, the FDA like, oh, this is amazing. This is amazing.

So, I got to work and I was so excited to tell one of my team members who, you know, I'm his boss, right? But I was so excited to tell him I didn't even take my coat off. I'm drawn on the white board and I'm diagramming this whole thing out. Beautiful drawing. And my teammate Larry, and he's looking at it and he's thinking, and he, all right, cool, cool. Well, what about this over here? What's going on with that? Because I'm not sure. I don't think that works with this. And I'm like, man, you're right. It totally doesn't work. This is terrible.

So, I just erased the whole thing off the board and we just went about our work day. He felt comfortable to tell me his boss, right? That my idea sucks. But he said it nicely, you know? And I didn't take it personally. Because ultimately, we're working on the same mission.

We're trying to solve these, you know, whatever the problems happen to be or the goals that we're trying to achieve in the company. Trying to help the surgeons. Trying to help the surgeons treat the patient right, and the pathology. It's okay that as a boss, I come up with terrible ideas too, and it's okay for you to tell me that, and I'm not going to yell at you for it or fire you for it.

Brian Ardinger: You spent a lot of your life as a biomedical engineer, and now you're a founder of a software company, a social app, you know dedicated to strengthening relationships and that. Talk a little bit about your journey to Uchi. How did it come about and, and where are you at in that journey?

Kevin Strauss: Man, Uchi you know, it is a labor of love. I mean, I, I really do love it, but I love how it's so simple. In fact, it's almost too simple. And I think a lot of people think it won't work because it's so simple. Those are some of the best inventions that I've had are the ones that are so simple and address the exact need that the surgeon has.

So back to those days when we were doing the grant research and I had this epiphany about why so many arguments and conflict occur. And I started digging into the research and that's where I learned about high-risk behaviors by teenagers. You know, like drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, depression, suicide, you know, the CDC actually, you know, has a list of these high-risk behaviors.

And I was digging in and digging in. And so, what happened was we ended up putting a proposal together. And again, I had to dig into the research to see what's really going on here to submit a proposal to NIH and then it didn't get funded, right? So, there's a failure. It didn't get funded. And I was like, you know, instead of going through the whole process of reapplying, which is going to, you know, the next deadline's like six months later. And then waiting six months to hear if we get the grant. And then doing a phase one feasibility, which is like a, you know, nine month or one year feasibility.

And then going on to building a bigger model, you know, a bigger system to do a two-year study. I'm like, this is going to take so long. I can just build a website to do this. Now originally the whole idea was meant for a Palm Pilot. You remember those? Yeah. Because smartphones didn't exist back in 2001, 2003. So, with the permission of the company, I built a website.

I hired a consultant, paid my own money. We built a website. It was called Family E Journal, but it was just a matter of, you know, answering questions. And we post questions, you answer them, and you trade the answers with like your family members. And that's really where it got started, out of a failure from NIH. Do it myself. Hire a programmer and get it out into the world.

And it went live January of 2003, which is before Facebook and before My Space actually. And of course, it didn't take off because most people had never heard of Family E Journal. But that's how it got started. And then just, you know, inch by inch, little by little. Growing it and you know, I always had a day job, so it wasn't until like 2012 when I really put more effort into it, and then it wasn't until. 2018 that I actually started to transition from a web-based platform to a dedicated app, which is what, and I rebranded as Uchi and it just so happens Uchi in Japanese means in group or inner circle is exactly the point of the whole platform ever since 2001. It's all about connecting with the people who matter most to you.

And those are the relationships that have the greatest influence on us. So, if we can help people feel heard and understood and not feel shamed or judged, then we can strengthen relationships, which strengthens emotional health, which drives behaviors

Brian Ardinger: Are you finding teams and that are using the app. Tell me a little bit about the users and the experience they have.

Kevin Strauss: I'll be honest, you know, it's still a challenge. Because It's not a quick fix and it's not flashy. It's not like Instagram. It's not like TikTok, you know. It's not this candy that those platforms are. We've worked with schools, we've worked with universities, we've worked with public high schools, and they notice behavioral changes in less than two weeks’ time.

Tell me a platform that is so scalable, right? Because it's an app, so you know, thousands of people can instantly download it and use it. And within less than two weeks’ time, begin to see positive constructive behavior changes. So that's what can happen when you address the emotional health. When you address the root pain, the root problem, then behaviors change fast.

Brian Ardinger: It's very interesting. We just talked a little bit about the emotional side of innovation and that, but I also know that you're an award-winning ballroom dancer, an Ironman triathlete and that. So, I'm curious to understand your thoughts on how the physical side of the world and physical health plays into innovation as well.

Kevin Strauss: I've been a triathlete for 21 years now. You know, from Sprint Triathlon all the way up to Ironman triathlon, and I also coach Triathletes. And in that whole process, it's all about learning and problem solving. Like why am I bonking right or hitting the wall? Why is that happening? How do I prevent injury? Because that's one of the most important things.

What kind of nutrition works for me? How does my body react to heat or humidity or dehydration? And I'm proud to say that I'm a 21-year injury free ironman triathlete. I've never missed a season or even a race that I signed up for because of injury. That doesn't happen by chance.

I mean, my dad’s been using a walker for 20 years. It's not because I have some incredible genetics. It's because I figured out the root problem to like joint pain and to most injuries, like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, knee pain, hip pain. I figured out the root cause or what I truly believe is the root cause. I've put it into action, and I'm 21 years injury free.

So, when you solve the root problem, you don't have these ailments that plague so many athletes. You know, I've helped so many of my athletes and so many friends. Just this weekend I was helping a couple friends learn how to foam roll properly because of injuries that they've had. If I can just help make your life a little easier so you can be a little happier, that's what I want to do. And whether it's with physical health or emotional health, whatever it is, if I figured something out that works for me and it seems to apply to most all humans, I just want to share it.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your insights and that. And if people want to find out more about the book or Uchi what's the best way to do that?

Kevin Strauss: Yeah, well Innovate The 1% is on Amazon, you know, in the eBook or paperback. To find me, LinkedIn is a great place. You can find me, Kevin Strauss or Kevinrstrauss.com is my personal website, and uchiconnection.com is the Uchi App website.

Brian Ardinger: Kevin, thank you again for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation as the world of innovation continues to move forward.

Kevin Strauss: Thank you so much, Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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