Serafina: Hi, I’m Serafina Lalany and this is The BusinessMakers Show coming to you today from TMC Innovation Institute and my guest is Cynthia Rando, Founder and CEO of Sophic Synergistics. Thank you so much.
Cynthia: Hi, nice to meet you.
Serafina: So Cynthia, tell us about Sophic Synergistics.
Cynthia: So Sophic Synergistics was my brainchild after working many different careers at NASA Johnson Space Center where I had the privilege to work as a human factors engineer for the international space station program as well as do strategic innovation work in bringing crowd sourcing to the government for the first time, and then I got the awesome opportunity to work for public affairs and communication strategy.
And so after sitting in all those different positions I started to realize that there was an unfulfilled gap in the industry where human factors wasn’t implemented in a business-savvy sort of way to where you take the best of both worlds from human factors, business strategy as well as engineering to represent a point of convergence about how do you optimally design in terms of the end user, but also how do you optimize the business to be able to develop that product in a useful way.
Serafina: So your business model is a little bit of a fusion of two different schools of thought and before I move on Cynthia, I think for my own education and the education of our audience, what is human factors?
Cynthia: The simplest answer I can give it’s how do you optimize technology, products, services and environments to best meet the needs of the human being, whether that’s physically, cognitively or behaviorally, which is a combination of the two.
Serafina: And I think one of the most common ways that we as a community have been introduced to human factors is through the narrative of ergonomics when it’s so much more than that.
Cynthia: Oh absolutely it is. It is such a broad field and ergonomics is one very important piece of it when you’re looking about how the human body fits in certain circumstances when you think about car design or airplanes, how do you design around that human being so that not only do they fit in the space provided, but how can they function and have the right reaction when the time comes for them to have that reaction.
Serafina: So when did you know it was time for you to start this journey on your own?
Cynthia: I think it’s always been in my blood. My dad was an entrepreneur so my house was 24/7 all the time. He ran a travel bus company and my first words weren’t mom or dad, it was North Shore Tours because that’s what I heard every day when the phones would ring in my house. And so it was truly a family business; we were all hands on deck all of the time and so I kind of always knew that I wanted to work for myself but again, you can’t really be a good consultant until you’ve had experience and you’ve learned from the masters so to speak and are in a very focused environment. Lucky for me space allowed me to do everything under the sun, so I’m very grateful to NASA.
Serafina: Literally because Cynthia came out of NASA.
Cynthia: Out of this world, right?
Serafina: Out of this world. So what do your clients look like today and where do you see yourself maybe 5 years from now?
Cynthia: I got the ultimate compliment really. NASA is still a client; I help with them in terms of strategic communications work from a human perspective with their space suits. I work a lot with TMCX actually, with all the startups, helping them build better businesses by design. Specifically looking at how do they develop their projects, products and interfaces to be more human centric, but also optimize from a business case perspective; how do you translate human behavior and user experience into a value proposition when you’re talking about stakeholders who might want to invest in your company.
So those are two examples but I’ve worked a bit with clients in the virtual reality realm and some other options. And so that’s going to be fraught with a lot of human-centered design considerations because how do you help the human operate just like they would in the normal world in a kind of new environment where perception is a little bit different and cognitive reactions are a little bit different to where we’re always going to be playing a little bit of catch-up with technology, but once the technology is there they’re sort of seamless. You’re going to see this technology really break through and our lives changed dramatically.
Also with other government agencies like Department of Defense and Aerospace so my client base is very diverse and business people hate when I say this but I’m industry agnostic; anywhere there is a human and there’s interaction pint with a product, service or another human being you need human factors in your life.
Serafina: I think I agree. In fact when you speak about the guiding philosophy of Sophic Synergistics I think why haven’t we been talking about it and why hasn’t this been in the narrative? Have you ever experienced pushback or have you experienced a hard time kind of explaining your philosophy to others?
Cynthia: Absolutely every day and especially in my case where I’m building a business around a nontraditional model that really represents a point of convergence between business, engineering and human factors, which is not the traditional approach. You know when you hire a consultant you get one specialty or the other usually, and so this is a brand new space that I’m trying to…
Serafina: It’s quite disruptive.
Cynthia: Right – educate and communicate and kind of build the business around me and so absolutely because people don’t understand it and so there’s no model for me to point to right now. But it’s slowly starting to catch on and there’s a lot of traction around it, especially when you start thinking about the movement with hospitals and medical care focusing on the user experience as part of the hospital reimbursement model.
Serafina: Can you speak more about that?
Cynthia: Sure. When we think about the experience of patients going through healthcare now they tend to pass through many different institutions on their journey of care, as well as many different providers, so there’s always a lost in translation moment.
Serafina: The medical system is quite fractured.
Cynthia: Right, and we’re really relying on that human who’s going through the treatment and series of care to be their own advocate and that’s really difficult, especially when you’re just trying to survive the whole process and get better, right? So it’s a lot of stress and a lot of load and oftentimes what we see with patients going through hospitals – and it’s not because their healthcare providers want them to continuously be sick, that’s not what we’re saying – it’s just that there tends to be a lot of readmission rates and a lot of things that go wrong through the process through miscommunication.
You hear a lot on the news where some poor soul gets the wrong limb amputated, and again that’s process and procedural, but even the hospitals and the staffs themselves, they have to manage a whole lot of workload and stress and it’s high burnout. So there’s a lot of human-centered type issues to be considerate of and of course when you’re thinking about the insurance companies the more times you have to go back to the hospital the more expensive it is for you and your policy, so they have a vested interest in reducing cost.
Serafina: Exactly, so it’s worth thinking one under the spectrum patient-centric care but you’re talking about all of the players of the system; the provider, the nurses, the staff, everyone in the system.
Cynthia: It’s a very complex scenario and it’s very integrated in some respects and very non-integrated in others.
Serafina: Absolutely. Can you explain to me in detail why sometimes you would not be brought in as a consultant?
Cynthia: Sure. I think there’s a legacy there of equating human factors professionals and the process with high cost impacts of the project life cycle when you’re looking at it from a business perspective and what people failed to understand is that if you bring in human factors as early as the concept part, especially when you’re thinking like even paper prototypes, a human factors person can actually highlight all of the red flags before you go to an expensive prototype phase or where you get to a place where you’ve got to change designs because the users don’t like it.
And there’s 3 key areas really with users, especially when you’re introducing new products, that not only do you have to solve a need or a problem of theirs but they have to understand how to use it and they have to understand how it fits into their life. So these are the areas that companies traditionally go wrong when they don’t include a human factors person in their process.
Serafina: So on the contrary a human factors person can be a major cost-savings mechanism if started early enough.
Cynthia: Absolutely. On the order of almost 200 times for every dollar investment you make in the human factors and that’s exponential; like the earlier you bring them in the more that equates to cost savings to the project.
Serafina: Cynthia thank you so much for enlightening us with human factors engineering and the work happening at Sophic Synergistics and I wish you the best.
Cynthia: Thank you and thank you so much for this opportunity. I love talking about it, I love working in this space, so it’s definitely my pleasure.
Serafina: Well we hope to see you again on The BusinessMakers Show.
Cynthia: Thank you.
Serafina: And that wraps up my discussion with Cynthia Rando of Sophic Synergistics and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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