Wearables, Workflow, and Activity Trackers: You Can’t Measure What You Don’t Manage

This is just a short blog post to get ready for this week’s Healthcare Leadership Blog tweetchat, at 8:30PM EST, most every Tuesday.

You Can’t Measure What You Don’t Manage: Why I Advocate Wearable Workflow!

Amusing, at least to me, is that many proverbs are not only reversible, they are sometimes more true, profound, or funny. Here’s a fun list. Here are three of my favorites:

  • A company is known by the people it keeps
  • He who laughs longest laughs last
  • Time wounds all heels

I routinely reverse sayings just to see what results. My absolute favorite is “You can’t measure what you don’t manage,” (and similar, after “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”) because it aligns with my concept, “Wearable Workflow”.

The basic idea of wearable workflow is that we have to understand how wearable tech fits into our professional and personal workflows, sometimes called lifeflows. However, I go beyond this and argue we need to use some form or workflow technology to manage interactions among wearables, people, tasks, goals, environments, and so on.

Systems engineering (my MS) often involves collecting data about system behavior. This data is then used to improve behavior. Ideally, the very processes and workflows of a system are designed to emit exactly the right data that is needed in order to improve performance. This is what I mean by you can’t measure what you don’t manage. We will have to design the wearable workflow so as to collect the data we need to improve them.

I actually give a keynote on this topic at the Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference (Orlando in February!). You can watch the keynote on Youtube. I also turned that talk into a book chapter, which you can download here.

Earn health insurance discounts WITHOUT exercise with UNFIT BITS!

I spent Saturday at the Open Hardware Summit in Philadelphia. (I’ll connect this back to wearable workflow in a moment.) It was really cool for many reasons and deserves a dedicated blog post. However I’d like to highlight one presentation about activity trackers. It was a polished and energetic parody of many a startup pitch I’ve seen. However, instead of pitching a new activity tracker, they pitched a variety of products to evade activity tracking, but still get those health insurance discounts. Below a young lady twirls a Jawbone on an electric drill. Other methods involved metronomes and attaching activity trackers to automobile tires!

For a minute or two, when it started, I was a bit confused and shocked. This was stylish and hip backlash to corporate wellness programs and technologies. What fascinated me was, this is how rebellions begin. Often the first sign that a dictator will be toppled is laughter at that dictator’s expense.

Activity trackers, as a thing, are over, at least in the eye of these edgy trend-setters. Now, whether it’s relevant to over 50s Fitbit wearing Boomers, I don’t know. However, it is consistent with what I wrote before about wearable workflow.

Activity tracking, and other health wearable technology, needs to become an invisible part of our ecosystem of at-our-service personal and professional workflows. It needs to be disguised as something else. If “disguised” sounds distasteful and unethical, then it needs to become something else entirely.

Which brings me the following illustration.

Twitter’s Video Live-Streaming Service Periscope Helped Me Lose 15 Pounds!

A couple of weeks ago I was asked, as part of a tweetchat, for my top three health apps were.

I listed Twitter, Periscope, and my Pebble watch (running Jawbone UP24 app).

Here was my rationale. Twitter is basically my number one app for everything, including health information. Of course, the info is typically at the end of links tweeted out by curators I follow, but it is still the Twitter app that makes this possible.

Skipping to number three, I’ve tried a number of trackers, and Pebble is the one that finally stuck, but only when Fitbit’s competitor Jawbone made their activity tracking service available as a Pebble app. Even more notably, I’ve given my wife lots of neat gadgets and technologies over the years, and hardly any of it every makes the grade. Most ends up gathering dust. However, in this case I got her the nicer looking steel version of Pebble. I created a custom watch face incorporating her company’s logo. And I installed the Jawbone UP24 app. She loves the look, the customization, and that she only has to charge the Pebble once a week. One more convenience is that we don’t bother syncing to the cloud. With a shake of the wrist it shows on a bar graph how far she (and I, on my Pebble) walked on each of the past seven days. We constantly compare. So, no synching to the cloud. Hardly any charging. And, as far as she is concerned, it’s not even actually an activity tracker. It’s a cool looking watch with her companies logo on it. Other employees are so envious they’ve bought the same watch and asked me to similarly customize!


But what about Periscope? Certainly it can be used as a way to inform and motivate; I’ve seen several ’scoopers share their diet and weight success stories and best practices. But that’s not what lost my 15 pounds. What lost my weight was getting out and about, often before sunrise, to share the sights and sounds of where I live, Washington, DC. I even registered a new domain, DCscopes.com for Washington, DC, periscopes. I archive my best scopes (where “best” often correlates amount of interaction with viewers).

But this is what I was talking about earlier. Periscope isn’t a traditional activity tracker. Far from it. Though I can imagine interesting future activity tracking mashups, particularly when a Periscope API materializes (an API allows third party programmers to develop third party apps). For example, that amusingly cynical presentation about UNFIT BITs at the Open Hardware Summit? It will be hard to cheat, and it will be perhaps less tempting to cheat, if we are actually Periscoping our walking about. I’m already seeing lots of exercise fanatics ’scoping their routines. That’s cool, but what I’m taking about is not scoping about exercise, but rather incidentally generating exercise as a by product of an enjoyable social activity woven into our wearable workflow, so to speak.

What Would Mr. RIMP Do?

I’d like to add one more section to this post, about my pet project, Mr. RIMP. RIMP stands for Robot-In-My-Pocket. “He” is a customizable, 3D-printed, interactive, wearable robot. He has a Twitter account (@MrRIMP), a web address (http://MrRIMP.com), and even a business card. You can see a demo of me interacting with Mr. RIMP in the following tweeted video.

Mr. RIMP potentially has similar indirect effects on my physical activity as Periscope. I’ve walked around all day at numerous Makerfaires. The following is from the most recent here in Washington, DC. You can see how folks are drawn to and interact with Mr. RIMP. (Fast forward to about half way through to see the kids, several of who genuinely seem astonished.)

The current version of Mr. RIMP (version 3) has two sensors and three effectors. He can sense objects right in front of him and he can sense someone touching his toes, finger, and “hair.” Mr. RIMP can act on his environment through his heartbeat. I’m intended to eventually vary the color and rate to represent emotional state. An 8×8 grid flashes a dynamic colorful bar graph in response to ambient sounds, to show is he is “listening.” And he says things. I like snakes! RIMP stands for Robot-In-My-Pocket! And he even recites poetry from the famous American poet, Robot Frost.

At this point I’m trying to be imaginative about version 4. I like the idea of adding an 3-axis accelerator. Then certain motions could cause him to exclaim “Let’s dance” and then sing. Also, accelerator data could be collected, a la Fitbit, Jawbone, etc. Obviously I’d like Mr. RIMP to be (even more) cute, polished, and intelligently interactive. I just thought I’d introduce him into the #HCLDR tweetchat community. I’ve got to “socialize” him sometime! :)


I’m just saying what I usually say, albeit customized to wearable activity tracking. Healthcare needs better workflow data, and the best way to get this data is through use of wearable technology. There’s beginning to be some interesting work in this area though!

Activity tracking needs to be an invisible, but ethical, part of an ecosystem of personal and professional workflows. The route to get there will be a combination of using workflow tech to generate data about workflows and life-flows. And then the key to leveraging these data and insights will be what I call “Wearable Workflow.”

This entry was posted in social-media. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.