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S1:E5 | #5 – Product Design Solves Problems With Shig Tanaka

UMN Shig | Product Design

Shig Tanaka is the Vice President of Research & Development at Providence Medical Technology. He was the Co-founder of Prospect+Health and lead engineer of Kolum, Inc (acquired).  

Shig graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Product Design. His interests in mathematics, problem solving, and mechanical engineering were an ideal fit for the emerging field at a time when Computer-Aided Design (CAD) was enabling rapid advancements in product development. Shig developed products for 15 years before leading Speck Design’s Medical Device practice.

In this episode, Shig shares advice with aspiring entrepreneurs and product designers on how to advance from the idea stage to building a physical prototype and ultimately commercializing healthcare innovations. As an added bonus, Shig explains how his “selfish” philosophy of working with people and selecting projects that make him happy provide the much-needed motivation to overcome obstacles and persevere in the competitive healthcare field.

Product Design Solves Problems With Shig Tanaka

In this episode, Shig Tanaka talks about product design. He gives advice to aspiring builders on how they can launch a career in making medical devices and healthcare products. He also speaks to the entrepreneurs, figuring out how to build their first product or prototype so that they can raise capital and ultimately make their vision a reality.

Our guest on episode number five is Shig Tanaka. He is the Vice President of Research and Development at Providence Medical Technology. He started his career with a degree in product design at Stanford University. He went on to work at Speck Design, leading their medical products team and was also one of the principal engineers of the M6 cervical disc arthroplasty at Spinal Kinetics. Shig was the managing director of Prospect+Health, a healthcare incubator. Shig runs R&D at Providence. We’ve worked together for a long time. Shig, I’m so happy to have you on the show.

Thanks, Jeff.

These are a lot of fun, especially because you and I have been working together for many years now. It’s hard to believe. The products that I’ve been involved with building, I was thinking about it and there aren’t any where you weren’t involved. I go back to 2008 and it’s going to be the backdrop for this show. I and Dr. McCormack, who was a guest here, have an idea for a product. We were looking for a product consultancy at the time you were at Speck Design. We interviewed a dozen or so. Ultimately, we pitched you to take our business and thank goodness you did.

From there, in addition to developing the first DTRAX facet system when we were developing the MANOS incision-less carpal tunnel. That was you. When we went to start our incubator, we begged and pleaded and eventually convinced you to run Prospect+Health. The first exit that we had together as a team was you not just running Prospect, but being the designer, quality system builder, IP and everything to develop a very novel cervical cage.

It’s exciting to have you on the show. We get to talk together a lot. Unfortunately, not as much but before we get into all the great stuff you do on developing products, take us back to young Shig. Where were you born? What was it like growing up where you grew up? What are some of the highlights of your childhood?

I’m originally from Japan. I’m still a Japanese citizen with a green card here. I grew up in Japan until I was ten and I came to the US with my family. I loved it so much that I don’t want to leave even when my family went back home. The compromise was to go to the American school in Japan, which is an international high school in Tokyo.

From there, I came to the States for a university. I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was I wanted to build things or do engineering when I came over here. Luckily for my life and career was finding the product design program at Stanford. My interest early on was doing mechanical things and building things, but also art and design in general. I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was engineering, but when I started product design. It felt like the perfect fit for me.

The program was still young back then, but it was a very small tight-knit group, which also was a great boon for me in a big university. That did a lot to formulate my career and the way I want that to work, in general. That’s the big thing that I got from my time there. Early on, my parents were letting me go free and do what I wanted to do. One of the things that I wanted to do was to do well in the things that I did.

Why is that such a motivator?

My theory is that it’s a drive to feel good. It’s not about doing it for somebody else. You are doing it for somebody else, but it’s because you like the feeling of somebody being happy for you, for example. That’s my theory about doing good things. I feel good when somebody says, “Thank you for a job well done.” It’s a selfish motive in a way but because it’s coming from yourself, it helps you to sustain it rather than simply doing it because somebody told you to. That is my philosophy. That means being cool and doing what I do in life overall. I call it being selfish but in a way, it’s making sure that you’re doing things that you want to do that make you happy in the end. Hopefully, that ties into doing good things.

Can you think back early on the first time you did something great and then people were happy and you selfishly liked that feeling? When did that start for you?

It’s tough to remember but I remember building a lot of things for school with Legos, for example, and coming up with the coolest thing. People will be like, “How did you do that? That’s great.” It makes the kids feel good and you want to do more. The other thing is when you learn new things. When I first learned computers way back when there were Atari computers, I learned basic programming and other things myself. My grandma or my mom will be like, “How did that happen? How did you do that?” It makes you motivated to do more things and to learn more things on your own. I was fairly self-motivated in that way to pick up new things and learn new things because I wanted to know. I would ask people but I would rather research and find out myself what’s out there that keep things moving.

Our previous guest is someone you know, Dr. Kris Siemionow. We were talking about how he got into medicine and ultimately, become an entrepreneur. He said, “I always looked at people that build things. Whatever it was, they had an idea and they built something with a lot of wonders.” It was interesting as a child because Legos were one of the first things I remembered about Speck Design and the environment you helped create. There were Legos. It was part of the branding. As long as I’ve known you, there has always been a Lego on your desk or with your kids talking about Legos.

You find out that you can build things. The people that matter a lot to you are impressed and happy when they see this amazing thing you had built, whether it’s something with Legos or you’re using an Atari and putting some computer codes. When you fast forward to being in the States and your parents say, “We’re going to go back to Japan,” what was the discussion like when you said you want to stay in the States? How did that go?

It was my father’s business that took us there, and it was going to take us back. It was a normal thing after six years, but I had spent ages 10 to 16 in Hawaii. It was the right fit for me. I was not a conventional Japanese kid back then. The US school system especially was a nice fit for me and my brother. We said, “Why are we going back?” “It’s because the family is going back.” I said, “I don’t want to go back.” We had this bad image of the Japanese school system. That was probably the other reason. The compromise was, “We have to go back. I can’t leave you here but there’s this international school that’s an American high school system. Why don’t we put you guys there?” I said, “We’ll try that out.”

That was a good experience for me because it brought all these different kids. In Japan, it was with Japanese kids when I grew up. In Hawaii, it was American or Hawaiian kids. The international school had people from Europe and Japanese kids that spoke English as I did. There are a few American kids that their first language was Japanese. They spoke Japanese better than English.

There are all these different elements and it was a very new thing for me. That was very exciting. It was a good education too. I think it was a good school. I’m glad my parents were able to accommodate us that way. I didn’t think of it at the time but looking back, it was a big decision for them to not put us back into a Japanese school system and stay in Japan. I should probably thank them more for that and what they’ve done for me.

The international school was in Japan or was it in the States?

It’s in Tokyo.

You can learn many things through books and classes, but until you have a track record, it's tough for somebody to gauge how well you can do. Click To Tweet

Did your family live in Tokyo also?

This town was pretty close. I think it’s now 118 years old. It’s an old international school. One of the oldest ones in Asia.

What’s the name of the school?

American School in Japan, ASIJ. That’s very straightforward.

At that point, you were sixteen years old?

When I went back, I was sixteen. Right after 9th grade is when I went back.

Something about that education worked out because you applied and got into Stanford University. One of the most selective schools in the United States. Was ASIJ set up for college placement? How did that all come about?

They were but my parents do not know anything about the American school system and me being sixteen, I had no idea about the American college or university system. There was a college counselor there that helped students. He was the one that said, “Have you looked at these schools? Do you know this?” I had no idea what Stanford was or any of the schools. It was the counselor’s office saying, “You should try out these schools.”

Looking back, I should have probably looked into it more but it was like, “There’s Stanford. There’s this place called MIT. I’ve heard of MIT. It sounds like a nice school. I will apply there.” It was like that. I think it was a lot less competitive back then compared to now. I was lucky to have that person there to help me out because there was nobody else in my family that could help me.

Do you remember that person’s name?

Mr. Kraus.

Mr. Kraus at ASIJ. On behalf of Providence and all the people that have benefited from Shig, thank you, Mr. Kraus. We’re glad it worked out that way. When you were in high school, were you doodling or doing art and enjoying that? Were you more into math? What were your interests at 16 or 17 years old?

My interest in high school was math. I liked math. I was good at it and then doing different things. I like art classes, science and physics. I didn’t get into the sciences too much like chemistry or biology. I did TV production club. That was fun, and the sports like wrestling. I did judo for three years. I didn’t get into the arts like plays and things like that. I wanted something to do by hand. Although math isn’t that way, it just agreed with me. It was fun to figure things out. That’s the thread. I like figuring things out. I love doing theories. When things work out and you get that nice answer in the end, it’s beautiful. A lot of people say math is beautiful. It is an artwork in a lot of ways. That was fun for me.

When you got to Stanford, how long into your experience there as an undergrad that you see product design could be the fit?

When I went in, I was on this mechanical engineering track. I started taking the prerequisites. I was crushed in math right away. I thought I was good at math. I took some honors classes and got crushed. That was big.

What does that mean? I can’t imagine anyone crushing you in anything.

It’s another good thing that happened to me. I was so good at math in high school, but it was a very small pond. When I got to Stanford, I got A-classes. I was like, “I’ll take this top-level honors Calculus class for freshmen.” I go in there and it’s a small class of twelve people. I always tell this story about there being a couple of European math champions kids that have done advanced Physics in middle school or something like that.

It was a different space coming from this small private high school into where everybody is coming in. Even though the international school was very diverse, this was a different plane. I survived it but it has told me that I’m not the top dog in this world. It’s very humbling in a way. I’m glad I got that right away. It was a good experience. It was humbling but it was a good experience.

There is this book that was written by Professor Scott Galloway. Have you ever heard of him?

UMN Shig | Product Design
Product Design: Try to apply what you learn in singular companies, and then how you can effectively get to the solution cost-effectively or as quickly as you can.

He sounds familiar.

He has a great YouTube channel. He was an entrepreneur and a professor at NYU. He put out a book called The Algebra of Happiness. One of his principles is if part of your happiness is going to be tied to success, you need to go to the density of talent. If you’re in a small town or if you’re the best at whatever it is that you do, you got to go to where all the talent is. At worst, you’ll be average around the best and good things will happen. At best, maybe you compete and you’re still one of the top dogs. In your case, you find out that you’re not necessarily number one at math, then what? Were you looking to be the best at something else?

I was looking at what I wanted to do because I had this big idea about mechanical engineering like hands-on stuff. I was taking classes and I did this freshman core that was hardcore. It took a lot of time to do so. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I started looking at what I really wanted to do. I know I’m interested in a technical area, but some of the early theoretical classes like thermal and other things were not that engaging for me. That was the problem.

There was a degree fair sort of thing in my sophomore year. Back then Product Design wasn’t an official degree. It was a combined degree. It was a school of Engineering degree. Now it’s an official degree program. They introduced it as, “Here’s this a custom thing where you combine engineering with practical design and coming up with products and innovation, and all these prototypes.” I was fascinated. It was in the summer. I remember coming out saying, “I found it.” It was that quick. It clicked everything for me. Right away, I signed up in that quarter. It was serendipity but it was lucky for me that I found it at the time that I did.

Stanford is probably one of the best in the world if not the best in the world for product design. When you started the product design path within the school of Engineering, what year was that?

This was around 1991.

That’s like 6 or 7 years pre-Netscape and maybe 4 years pre-AOL. Was there a buzz about semiconductors and the internet and computer? What was the buzz around? What was the hot product to design?

It was pre-internet for most people. We were excited about email. We had this station in the dorm. We go, “I can send email to people. That’s awesome.” It was still fairly traditional products like TVs, electronics, cars and auto design. It was still big and it was the early days of CAD too. There were a lot of CAD stations. Those were big. It was before the days of the laptop CAD systems.

For the audience that might not know. Can you explain what CAD is?

It’s Computer-Aided Design. People use it in different ways but it’s to design or sketch out products digitally rather than on paper. I think I was in one of the last classes to do paper engineering drawings. A year or two after me was when they started going digital for creating engineering drawings. I did drawings on paper with all the big rulers. It was fun. It was the early days of CAD. We had classes to learn what this new technology is. That was pretty exciting. Still, a lot of it is pretty much hands-on machining. The program still is very hands-on physical stuff because that is still important to people.

David Kelly, the Founder of IDEO was my advisor for the first couple of years. He was into getting a real experience for the students. Some people think it was almost like a farm system or the idea for him to get top talent. What I got out of it was having this vision of how real products work. It’s not just theoretical calculations on heat exchangers but you look for unmet needs and started designing things.

You interview people to see what they want and you would make your prototypes. You think about how this would be mass-produced and how you set a schedule so that you get it done by the end of the quarter. A lot of the things that I use now from a product management standpoint came from the product design program. You’re able to look at how products get developed, how you test them, fail and get away. That was very common. The three-year program or less, I did get a lot out of it.

The little bit I know about product design was all from you and Ed and the team. I remember when we first met at Speck. You’re telling me about your background and how you are the principal engineer of the M6. For those that don’t know, it’s an artificial cervical disc. The M6 was the first disc that attempted to simulate an actual range of motion in the neck. I think six degrees of motion is where it came from. Shig had designed that with the team at Spinal Kinetics. They had done clinical trials and were already the number one disc implant in Europe.

When we met, I was immediately impressed that this particular leader knows anatomy. What I liked about the Speck Design approach was I didn’t understand that you’ve got this industrial design component. It’s like, “This is how things feel in your hand and look.” There’s mechanical engineering, which is what I thought a lot of it would be. Some of the early things that I was excited about with Bruce was a discussion about you have to design it for manufacturability.

I didn’t understand anything about that at the time at all, then I remember one of our many phone calls. This is hopefully one of the things that we can touch on as we start to talk about product design. You have to have at least at the beginning the seeds of a quality management system. I remember vividly on the whiteboard the Fishbone Risk Assessment.

We were starting to lay the groundwork for a design history file and having an FMEA. Later on, we had all the ingredients we needed to implement our first quality system. Walk us through it. You have this great experience at Stanford. When you were at Speck Design, what clients were you working with leading the medical team? What were the projects you liked the best?

I came to Speck after fifteen years in medical devices in different areas. The company right before that was Spinal Kinetics. I was doing a lot of different things. The idea with the medical device product team at Speck was to bring what you were saying. The specific things you need that are special or specific about medical devices. That is different from developing a new TV or new remote controls for a new consumer product. That’s the specialty that I brought to the table.

A lot of times, it is medical device clients that knew what they’re doing. A lot of times, it’s people like yourself, entrepreneurs that maybe it’s their first time. Maybe it’s a doctor that has an idea that wants to start a company. That’s why we started with, “Here’s how the system should be set. It’s going to help you out later down the road.” I was trying to put that into the program so that you make people aware, “This is something that you have to do. There are some minimal things that need to happen and it is going to help you in the end.”

As far as the clients, it varies. There were a lot of bigger companies that needed help with one particular part of their product. There were a lot of startups and entrepreneurs either starting out or they’re at a stage where they prove the concept and they wanted to design their commercial product. They needed somebody to design or product design help. It was a good variation. That was the fun part with Speck. There’s a variety of different things you can do. I had a hand in other areas like consumer products and telecom products too. That was interesting as well.

For the question, what are some of the projects I liked? The one constant theme is liking the team or the person that you’re working with. It is a business you have to take on with you. The idea with Speck was we should be doing things that we enjoy doing so that leads to good work. Part of it is the interaction between the clients and us. It’s the people that have both the drive and the understanding of how a consulting relationship would work, and how realistic it would work.

No matter what method you use, you have to get your foot in the door where you can show your stuff. Once you are in there, show your thing, no matter how lowly your position is. Click To Tweet

There are clients that did not understand it. They’re like, “Why can’t you do this in three days?” “It’s because it takes two weeks to make this prototype.” “Can you do it in three days?” You remember it with some of the conversations we had. The difference is you’re able to challenge it, but then you’re able to take it in and understand it. The next round we do it, we have that base. It’s easier to talk through it.

Having that relationship was always important for me. It was a very personal thing when you do these kinds of consultant-type work. You don’t want to work for somebody that you don’t like even though you might have to. It’s those guys that I remember the most. More of the technical-minded and understanding entrepreneur that has a goal, “Here’s what I wanted to do.” It is stuck when you don’t have a set goal. It’s like, “I want to do this. Can you guys figure it out?”

We do that. We figured it out for them too but when there’s a vision, it’s easier to say, “This is where we can help you. Here’s what we can’t, so maybe you should go somewhere else,” for example. It makes everybody’s job easier that way. That clarity of vision is always important. You could say it’s an opportunity for us to make more money and it will help you create the vision. From a product design standpoint, it’s tough to work on something that’s not defined well. We would define it ourselves too.

Some of my favorite memories of the Speck days are when we were down in Palo Alto on Page Mill with you, Josh, Pete and Martin, and there was brainstorming of all these different ideas. I think it was phase zero and anything is on the table. I remember feeling a little insecure at the time or cautious about chiming up because you’ve got people that are absolute masters at their respective part of the process. Eventually, I was opening up a little bit and throwing out ideas.

One of the principles that I remember from that is that there are no dumb ideas. Get them out on the whiteboard. An hour later, we were looking at this big whiteboard and there were these groupings of ideas. You started to see patterns. Bruce and I drive down and you’re like, “Here is the first prototype.” That’s the most exciting thing as a builder.

If you compare that energy, you’ve done that so many times. You developed so many products that have helped hundreds of thousands of people. That range of different projects compared to what many would say is the best cervical disc ever developed, how did the diversity of multiple projects versus solely focused on bringing this PMA, a one of a kind product, to market?

I did come in fairly late to the game. I was the intern manager there. A lot of it was making sure it works. The basic concept was there. The basic design was there when I first came in and it was like, “How do we make this work?” It was through millions of cycles of testing. Some of them were how to figure out these different components. It was a lot of different problems. It wasn’t a singular product. It was very diverse and the different problems it had. I was doing the instrument side and I was doing some of the component side. The biggest difference is the depth versus breadth. There’s the depth that you can go into on this one single product line and you get into it.

You’re in 365 days a year, so you’re deep in it. Whereas, with the consultancy, it’s a much faster pace. It’s very quick. Sometimes it’s weeks. Sometimes it’s months. There are some clients like in Providence, where we did it for long periods of time. It’s a different mindset. How you deal with it is the same, but you try to apply what you learn in these singular companies, and then how can you effectively get to the solution that’s needed as effectively, as cost-effectively and as quickly as you can. It was a challenge and you got to be the person that likes that. I do like it. I enjoyed both going deep into a single subject and being diverse. I did two stints at a consultancy. I did my own thing with a partner and did the Speck Design job. It’s a different part of me that I enjoy doing. I’m not biased toward one or the other.

If you were talking to an aspiring product designer or someone who is in college now and they’re excited the way you were about designing products, and they’re contemplating what their first role should be, what advice would you give to them working for one company or maybe get involved to something with more breadth?

I talked to young guys almost every year, either friends’ kids or somebody that we get through the internship program and things like that. There’s no single answer that I can tell them. The one thing that I know for sure is at least in medical device engineering, you need to get that experience. There are a lot of things you can learn through books and your classes but until you have a track record, it’s a very fairly small world that we live in med devices. It’s tough for somebody to gauge how well you can do without that track record. The question is, “How do I get the track record if I’m just starting out?” That’s always a tough question.

What I usually tell people is no matter what method you use, you just have to get your foot in the door where you can show your stuff. Internships obviously are one of the lower bars that you can do. Once you are in there to be able to show your thing, no matter how low your position is. If you have what it takes, then you have a chance to show it. People need to see what you can do in that situation. You can’t get that from an interview. It could be a consultancy where you get to see what you can do or it could be a big company. They do have the resources to take in a lot of new people and give you that opportunity to work on a certain thing. That would be a very small part because it’s a big company but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a fit issue.

The key is to find an opportunity where you can put your foot in the door. That’s what you need to do. It could be a reference from a friend or a summer internship. It’s tough to get started otherwise. I can say that there’s not an easy way to start. People are looking for experience. It’s the timing of how you get experience in order to show that you have experience.

One of the things I’ve always admired about you, Shig, is you’re very generous with your time in teaching others. When we’ve had interns at Providence watching the development, you’re coaching them along despite being incredibly busy, leading the department and having your own work to do. What is it about teaching for you that is so satisfying?

It goes back to what we talked about what makes me happy. I want to enjoy working. It’s a selfish motive. One of the things that I enjoy is working with people that I like or having a good working environment. A big part of that is the team. It’s not just the engineering and technical team but the team overall. If there’s a way I can help with that even with the mood of the company or whatever it might be, I’m all for that.

A way for me to enjoy my life is to help people enjoy their life. I like seeing people happy. Therefore, I’ll try to help you get happy. One of the things is making sure that the young guys get the experience. Even the interns like the summer interns we’ve had, my main thing is they need to get something out of the internship. It shouldn’t be just us needing a hand for three months. If we’re going to do it, I want to make sure that they get something out of it. The first thing I tell them is to make sure that they are trying to get something out of this internship and that we’re here to help them with that.

The Facet Testing Model, the last intern at Providence has developed. Watching that presentation was a lot of fun for me. I know the hand that you and Chris had in it, but then the people that you have developed as engineers and their role in teaching an intern and seeing the final product in a short period of time is very impressive. I was happy for your team and my own selfishness. It was cool to see the role that our company was playing in this bright young woman’s step to the next thing in her education. Shig, if there’s such a thing as virtuous selfishness, I think you found it and I like it.

That’s my theory. It’s all about me.

That’s for the project designer. Now, for the builders that have an idea. They think there’s an unmet need. They’re ready for the long haul and they want to put their heads down, but they’re not product designers. They don’t have engineering skills. They can’t use CAD. What should they do to get that first prototype? What should that final product be for a prototype so they can raise money?

That could be a hundred different answers, but it’s different now compared to many years ago. The tools that are available are very different now. I think the biggest difference is the 3D printing or the 3D printers and the availability of that. That opens up so many doors for people starting out and doing prototypes or products in general. Not just medical devices but any product. That’s a great tool but how you use that tool is always going to be a question.

UMN Shig | Product Design
Product Design: Having an idea is great, but you need a partner to help you develop it into a tangible or workable form.

The key is to find a partner of some kind that’s going to help you with that step. Having that idea is great but you need a partner that can help you develop it into a form that’s tangible or workable. If you don’t have it, then you’re always going to be thinking it through in your head. Maybe you hire out somebody temporarily to make a quick prototype for you, but then it ends there. It doesn’t cycle through the different steps.

It could be an individual person and consultants that are available. It could be a group like Speck. It could be a true partner like a cofounder type of thing. The combination of the visionary and the technical execution is always a good combination to have. A lot of people have that within themselves. A lot of times, it’s a combination of 2 or 3 different people. It’s important to find the right partner early on.

For people that are building their idea and their team, one of the things that some investors look for is they like this business, commercial, go-to-market minded founder or cofounder, and then also a technical cofounder. Maybe it’s 3 or 4 cofounders. If the cofounders are primarily incentivized by their founding equity and want to make this idea and vision a reality. The people investing in those teams know that all the skillsets that are required to get that first push are available in the founding team

There are some situations where that doesn’t happen. I can speak to that. When Bruce and I started, we didn’t have a technical cofounder. You jogged my memory that we ended up meeting Nathan at Hantel. It was an introduction. Nathan, for anyone that wants to look him up, he’s always traveling the world. He’s a mad scientist, entrepreneur extraordinaire, and a great guy. He helped us build this little duck bill. It was this little plunger that put a little implant into a joint. That’s how we raised our seed round.

It was only because we could take the concept from a PowerPoint slide to putting an implant in a facet joint that we could raise the money. It was real enough for the true Angel-type investors that take a big bet on an unproven team. It was with the proceeds of that round that we could engage with Speck Design. That’s a great message, Shig.

Let me see if I have this right. If you have an idea and you’re not a technical person, get a technical cofounder, hire as a contractor someone with product design engineering capabilities, and leverage 3D printing because it keeps getting better and cheaper. Finally, if you can’t find that, look to partner with people that don’t necessarily want equity. They don’t want to be cofounders. They see something in you and are willing to offer their time to help you get to the next step.

Unless you’re a purely digital product, I’m a firm believer in the power of the physical object. You got to start doing that as early as you can. If it takes somebody to come in and build it for you, that’s better than not doing it. If you can get a very invested partner, that’s a very good situation where it’s going to help you with your investment presentations or iterations into where the product can go. It helps to push it along. Nathan enhanced them. He was the early one. You had that prototype and that’s how I saw what the product was. I could visualize what it was going to be. With that, I took it to the next step and try this out. Physical objects are big for me.

It looks like we’re in the right business. Shig, this has been a lot of fun. Are you ready to go to the vault?

I can try.

Let’s do it. It’s the first thing that comes to your mind. The first question, in the last year, is there a book, movie, TV show, blog post or anything that you read or watched that had a profound impact on you and you’re thinking about it regularly now?

It’s Seveneves. It’s an old Sci-Fi book by Neal Stephenson. It’s a great Sci-Fi about Earth getting destroyed and people surviving for years in orbit. It says something about the problem and the technical side of things. There’s this state that has the concept of what it means to be a certain type of person and how that person works with another type of person, and technical problem solving versus emotional politics. That’s something I’m always fighting too. How do you balance that between the emotional side of things and the technical side of things? Even though I’m only reading it now, that was an interesting read for sure.

Other than your parents and Mr. Kraus, who is one person throughout your life that saw your potential and has been a mentor or someone that has encouraged you throughout your development?

My old boss at my first company, General Surgical Innovations. Her name is Janine. She’s the one that took me in this direction of the team venture. You got to like what you do philosophy. She took me in personally and is a good friend. She was a good mentor to me. She is my neighbor. She is five minutes away from me now. She and her family have been a great part of my life since college.

The next question, in your current workflow as a product designer and vice president of R&D. What is one tool, it could be software or equipment, that you use every day and you can imagine working without it?

Surprisingly enough, it’s the Asana product that we use. It’s something that has been helping me to organize the 30 different things that I’m involved in every day. Even if it’s a list of things that are happening. It gives me one place to go to either take notes or remind myself to do things. I like organization in that way. I know there are pros and cons to software like that, but that has been helping me out.

All right, last question. As a product designer, when you look out and you’re trying to make new medical products that are going to help patients. What do you see from a product design perspective as the biggest unmet need?

I would say it’s still the global outreach beyond the industrialized nations. That has been talked about for a while. It’s going to keep growing. How do you provide medical services or cures to the majority of people? We live in a small bubble here. It’s still a big problem trying to get basic medical services out there like surgeries, ultrasound diagnoses, and things like that. I still think that’s an unmet need. How do you globalize the use of top-notch medical devices? Even basic medical devices. I’ve always been interested and curious about that area.

Folks, you heard it here. Favorite book, Seveneves. Some interesting points on organizational and teamwork development. A mentor that saw your potential early on, Janine Robinson. One of your first managers. The tool you couldn’t live without is the collaborative software called Asana. Finally, the biggest unmet need in product design and healthcare is figuring out a way to take design and affect other populations outside of the developing world. Shig, I appreciate you going to the ball with us. Thanks for being on the show.

Thank you.

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