Episode 5: Eric Collins on the virtues of toil and grit.
Never underestimate the power of toil and grit. Eric Collins, Chief Operating Officer of Touch Surgery, a surgical simulation platform, counts toil and grit as his signature superpowers.
'It's the willingness to toil and have some grit, you know, I'm just going to continue grinding away.'
As COO of a start-up transforming surgical instruction into a scalable experience, it's not just about bringing medical training into the 21st century, but addressing global surgical inequality using digital technology. In the latest episode of WERKIN with, Collins describes his company's mission to use mobile-first technology to support physicians around the world who have limited access to technical training on surgical procedures. More than two million people use the Touch Surgery app, now featuring more than 100 different surgery guides. The app, designed by practising surgeons, provides the cognitive steps and detailed simulations to assist surgeons working in conditions where the need for certain procedures is high, but training is limited.
Drawing on expertise from a diverse team of doctors, medical professors, illustrators, veteran entrepreneurs, and engineers at Touch Surgery, Collins notes the importance of assembling the right team to turn an idea into an effective company,
'For me, it's all about the teams that you can assemble around that idea and how you get them engaged and enthused, and on the same page, and then working. That's the critical piece.'
Assembling the right team is just the most recent success for Collins on a winding cross-Atlantic trajectory. Reflecting on his career spanning public and private sectors, including stint with the Obama Administration,
'You sometimes are going to have to move backward in order to be able to move more effectively forward. Things that I just didn't realise that sometimes we have to retrench. Sometimes we actually have to downsize. Sometimes we have to go back to core thinking before we're able to then move forward.'
Over his career, Collins has learned to reassess the opportunities that have come his way,
'I wasn't prepared that there are so many choices and that what I was often having to do, after having made a choice was possibly remake the same choice, time and time again.'
Collins describes the roles of mentors along his path, 'I found that I would not have been able to make things happen without having champions who either had formal or informal mentor relationships with me, as well as people who were speaking on my behalf in other circles.'
Recognising the importance of advocates in the workplace is now something that drives the partnerships Collins oversees at Touch Surgery. 'You know, bringing in one person at the top of your [… ] organisation does not change make. We don't get to congratulate ourselves and then go home. We have to be better at this.'
In pursuing the best talent for Touch Surgery, as COO, Collins aims to set an example in the tech industry, 'we don't believe […] in just changing our own dynamics… we can use our economic power to also impact the other organisations.'
Collins recounts some of the tough conversations he has with leaders who are sceptical of the business case for organisational diversity and inclusion, 'Well we're trying to find the best people and we're trying to find them quickly,' to which he responds 'that's what I'm trying to do. The best people will be a lot of women, I promise you, and I'm sorry if your networks don't easily evidence those. Either they will start to evidence those or we'll have to work with someone else who actually finds this to be useful and has figured out a manner in which this can actually be worked.'
'It's an embarrassing statement when people say to me "we're looking for the best." And somehow that means something different than my definition of the best.'
Collins recognises that finding the best and reaching beyond the usual suspects sometimes takes a bit more work. 'There's something to be said for people who take on a task and toil and keep on keepin' on.' We at WERKIN would agree.