Jun 7, 2023

3 questions with new Chief Technology and Innovation Officer

Ken Washington will draw on experience in robotics, consumer products, automotive, and space in new role. 

Ken Washington
Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Medtronic, Ken Washington.

Ken Washington has joined Medtronic as the company’s first Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.  
With a background in nuclear engineering, Washington's resume reflects an array of experiences — from working on self-driving cars at Ford Motor Company, to overseeing consumer robotics at Amazon. As the new CTO of Medtronic, he'll push the company further in its ability to invent, innovate, and create positive disruptions in our markets.  

Washington recently answered three questions about what he plans to bring to the new role: 

Q: Your resume includes experience in robotics, consumer products, automotive, and space. How will that experience help you lead at Medtronic?  

Washington: I believe many of my experiences from these other roles apply to Medtronic. This was true when I transitioned from space tech to automotive tech, where my insights, instincts, relationships, and technical knowledge of software engineering, advanced materials, additive manufacturing, and control theory (just to name a few) all proved to be relevant and helpful. When I moved from automotive to consumer robotics, I brought artificial intelligence, embedded software, modeling and simulation, and advanced manufacturing expertise to my new team. In both cases, the fact that my team and I had different backgrounds and perspectives turned out to be a plus, and I suspect that will be true here, too. Most importantly, my prior roles have taught me how to lead teams, build internal and external partnerships, and communicate an exciting strategic course. These are all immediately transferrable experiences. I know there are many healthcare specific things I need to learn, and thankfully Medtronic is full of healthcare experts I can learn from and partner with as we create an exciting future together. 

Q: Where do you see the most opportunity for our business to lead in tech-enabled healthcare — and what could be our biggest hurdle? 

Washington: Two big ideas stand out for me – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cross-OU synergy. AI is promising to revolutionize every business, including healthcare. Generative AI solutions are being built that perform better and faster than humans when trained appropriately with human feedback. This is a big opportunity for Medtronic and our patients, because we build devices and perform services that generate and/or access massive amounts of healthcare data. I am excited to partner with Medtronic teams already leading some of this work and collaborate with them to see what we can accomplish together! 

Second, the breadth and size of Medtronic is a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because we cover a lot of ground. It is a weakness because OUs using or developing potentially synergistic technologies can be unaware of each other, so duplication can occur and/or leverage is lost. I will focus a significant amount of my energy on addressing this opportunity, starting with a listening tour to learn what we have and where specific potential synergies exist. Our biggest hurdle will be embracing new technologies fast enough, while addressing privacy, security, safety, and regulatory challenges, before digital-native companies and/or startups beat us to the punch. 

Q: In your role, you’ll lead the vision and strategy that puts the “tech” in med tech. What does a culture of innovation look like, and how do you foster that as a leader? 

Washington: A culture of innovation begins with a mindset to experiment and a tolerance for early and safe failure. Failure by itself is not good; for failure to be an asset it must be paired with a culture of learning and mechanisms to act upon those learnings. The leader must make it safe to experiment and fail early and safely, and they must ensure that learning mechanisms are in place. Leaders are curious in an innovative culture. To foster a culture of innovation a leader must set the tone at the top. The organization will notice how a leader spends their time and the questions they ask. 


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