WILLIAM HARDING MEET THE INNOVATORS

A celebrated R&D leader at Medtronic and a patient, giving him valuable insight used to inspire the next generation of engineers

 

It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and most of the cubicles are empty. But a computer screen still blinked in front of William Harding. He was leading a conference call with colleagues on the other side of the world — talking about the future of augmented reality.

Interview with William Harding

Hear William Harding discuss his innovative work at Medtronic, and how his experience as a patient inspires that work.
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THE DAY IT CHANGED

Skydiving was more than a one-time adrenaline rush for William Harding. By 2005, he had recorded more than two thousand jumps.

But that year, the thrill-seeking came to an end.

“I wasn’t paying attention to a landing,” he recalled. “I went through power lines, twisted both my legs, and split my pelvis open.”

The accident nearly took his life. Recovery required months of rehab, and doctors were forced to amputate the lower half of his left leg. At the time, William was a systems engineer at Medtronic, but he quickly became more than an employee. Doctors implanted a Medtronic pain stimulator to alleviate chronic pain.

“My quality of life immediately returned,” he said. “I don’t skydive anymore, but the accident never slowed down my work at Medtronic.”

In fact, some of his first patents involving leadless pacing came while he was in recovery.

ENCOURAGED TO INNOVATE

Harding, a Distinguished Technical Fellow at Medtronic, is a member of the company’s Healthcare Innovation Team, a group dedicated to emerging technologies and improving healthcare solutions through human-centered design. The team uncovers strategic health opportunities and develops innovative solutions through human-centered design.

And since the accident, he approaches his work with a deeper sense of empathy.

“To be able to relate to that need fired off so many more rockets and lightbulbs in my mind,” he said. “Seeing things from a patient perspective enhances my ability to create.”

Harding has fingerprints on multiple projects across the company, including opportunities to improve processes, leverage augmented and virtual reality, and look at biosensing analytics.

“I believe that our continued growth in the areas of sensing and diagnostics will enable Medtronic to create improved methods for applying patient therapy,” he said.

That’s not all. Harding and his team are looking at new ways to use big data, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.

“Our ability to transform health data will further promote Medtronic as the leader in healthcare solutions.”

INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION

While there remains years of creative thinking and innovation left for Harding, as he gets older he’s increasingly focused on the next crop of potential Medtronic engineers.

“I’m asking myself, ‘what will my legacy be?’” he said. “For me innovation also means inspiring tomorrow’s leaders.”

Beyond being a champion for collaborating across the business, Harding is leading initiatives to mentor young innovators —high school, college students, and young Medtronic employees.

“One of my favorite things is working with people and seeing that spark in their eye, then encouraging them to run with it,” said Harding. “That really gives me a thrill.”