Unleash the power of creative destruction in your practice

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
May 30, 2012

Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor’s advice to hearing care professionals on how to offer their patients services that cannot be provided by sophisticated machines or inexpensive labor overseas was published originally on the Hearing Economics blog on May 16. Holly Hosford-Dunn, the editor of Hearing Economics, and I agreed that we should bring his valuable ideas to the attention of readers who missed his post the first time.

David H. Kirkwood, Editor, Hearing Views


By Brian Taylor

The Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) coined the term “creative destruction” to describe the method by which economic change occurred in a capitalist society. Schumpeter noted that the fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from new consumer goods, new methods of production, emerging markets, and new forms of industrial organization that entrepreneurs create. In Schumpeter’s view of capitalism, entrepreneurs are the disruptive force that sustains economic progress.

Creative destruction and disruptive technology are all around us. If you were in the newspaper or recording industry 15 years ago, your profession has been thoroughly disrupted by the digital MP3 and tablet computer goliaths. There is no reason to think that audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, physicians, and others involved in hearing care should be immune from the forces of creative destruction and disruptive innovation.

The reality is that technology is getting so good and so cheap that many of the technical aspects of our job may soon be replaced by a machine. Just as the artisan weavers of the 18th century were replaced by the mechanical loom, audiologists may be replaced by computers that conduct accurate tests. A group called the Luddites fought the mechanization of textile production for decades and lost. You have to wonder if it’s worth fighting the disruptive forces in our profession.

The forces of creative destruction extend beyond disruptive technology per se. Other professions that once thought they were immune to the effects of outsourcing now find themselves marginalized by low-cost workers in Asia who speak good English and have advanced degrees in science and engineering. A physician in India can read X-rays and sonograms for a fraction of the cost of having them read by an American radiologist. The day may come when the troubleshooting and adjustment of hearing aids  is done remotely from another country by professionals with advanced degrees.



These last two paragraphs illustrate a very narrow, techno-centric view of the hearing care professions–one that I certainly don’t agree with, but that is widely held by many within the hearing care professions. While I commend the efforts of anyone willing to fight to maintain barriers to entry into our respective industry professions, I wonder if some of that energy could be better devoted to creatively engaging the marketplace in new and better ways of adding consumer value.

Taking a page from Schumpeter, I propose that hearing care professionals of all stripes bring new services to market that cannot be replaced with technology or duplicated by lower-cost outsourced labor. It’s time to rally around the mass personalization of services.

There are three areas where the personalization of services by audiologists and hearing instrument specialists cannot be duplicated by machines or outsourced labor. All three of these personalized services require face-to-face interaction with a patient/customer:

  1. Consultative selling: using evidence-based practices to identify a hearing loss and uncover an individualized solution.
  2. Personal adjustment counseling: working with a patient over a relatively extended period of time to unearth the emotional underpinnings of his or her  hearing loss and helping the patient and family cope with it as they age.
  3. Individualized rehabilitation: working with patients to “retrain” their brain in the communication process and helping them become more proficient communicators.

When hearing care professionals are able to wrap a memorable and engaging experience around these three core competences, they will create value than cannot be duplicated by disruptive technology or outsourced labor. Capture the entrepreneurial experience and unleash the power of creative destruction in your practice!


Brian Taylor, AuD, is Director of Practice Development and Clinical Affairs for Unitron. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, the journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and the author of the book Consultative Selling Skills for Audiologists, published by Plural.

  1. I take exception to your statement of “I commend the efforts of anyone willing to fight to maintain barriers to entry into our respective industry professions,” as these people in the hearing aid professional community are not “Luddites” as you charitably call them: Since we are in the context of economics, I would call these people rent-seekers looking to preserve their monopoly.

    We as an industry tried this once before in the 1980’s when traditional dispensers tried to keep audiologists from dispensing hearing aids… And the end result is that now 80% are dispensed by that branch of the profession.

    What’s more, as an industry we are a dismal failure to the public we pretend to protect by erecting monopolistic barriers to other sources, including Internet sales: Out of 33 million people in the US who could benefit from amplification, only 8.4 million have hearing aids (plus 100,000 who have CI’s): I would call this 27% figure downright abysmal.

    As to your contention that personalization of counseling & rehab services should be done by today’s hearing aid professionals, I agree only to the point that it should come after the hearing aid fitting has been optimized, and .NOT. as an integral part of making excuses to the patient for not doing an excellent job to begin with.

    1. I appreciate your comments, Dan. After reading the article you have linked on rent-seekers, I agree that it might be a better term than Luddites. When I put on my audiology hat, I think that barriers to entry are a good thing, as long as the profession has high standards in it’s education, credentialing and clinical standards. Obviously, we have some significant gaps in this area. The fact that the majority of audiologists are “not doing an excellent job to begin with” by implementing evidence-based practices and measuring relative benefit would support this claim.

  2. Brian, I especially agree with “I wonder if some of that energy could be better devoted to creatively engaging the marketplace in new and better ways of adding consumer value.” As an industry, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to 1) creativity and 2) personalization of services. Well said.

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