Jagdish Chaturvedi: “I Consider Myself An Expert On Mistakes And Failures”

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Jagdish Chaturvedi: “I Consider Myself An Expert On Mistakes And Failures”

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Jagdish Chaturvedi is an Ear Nose & Throat Surgeon, a serial medical device innovator, stand-up comic and author recognized by multiple publications including the MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35.


Q: What are some challenges you faced when developing your presence?

I would say that my presence has evolved as a result of what my environment has required from me. I have only allowed myself to add more to my capabilities to meet that requirement, though I had the choice to restrict myself to doing just one thing. The biggest challenge has been around becoming multi-faceted from being single-faceted because it’s common, safer, simpler and more acceptable in society to do one thing. But, is that what was required from me was the real question.

When I started my training as an ENT resident doctor, I soon realized, the simple practice of treating patients is not going to be enough. Patients were having throat cancer lesions that were going unnoticed in rural areas due to lack of adequate diagnostic tools and were coming to me with advanced disease, where I really couldn’t do much. I felt limited in my capabilities as a doctor due to lack of availability of surgical tools and devices that were designed for my usage in the Indian setting. Therefore I felt the need to go one step ahead and start making medical devices on my own. I faced criticism from my colleagues because I was not following the norm of only treating patients. I felt concern from my parents who wondered if this is a diversion which would affect my clinical career. I was labeled to be confused, distracted and non-committed to clinical practice. “Oh so you have become a researcher from a surgeon” is what many would tell me when I explained the devices I had developed. Dealing with this mindset regularly was challenging. But it made sense to me because I felt I was not doing enough by just doing what everybody else was doing. Fortunately, I had a senior professor in ENT who guided me through the transition and helped me walk the path of becoming an innovator in addition to being a doctor.  

As I grew to become a more seasoned medical device innovator, I noticed that one of the reasons for poor innovations in healthcare in India was due to the lack of cross-disciplinary interaction between doctors and engineers to develop new technologies together. There was a huge gap that needed to be addressed. As a doctor, I needed to collaborate with engineers and product designers to co-develop new technologies but there was no common platform or way to do it. There was a shortage of awareness on how to invent medical devices and a lack of know-how on how to co-invent together as a team. I felt that this information and knowledge needed to be accessible and wrote a book called “Inventing Medical Devices – A perspective from India” to bridge this gap.

Lastly, balancing being an actively practicing doctor, medical device innovator and an author made my life quite stressful and started to affect my health. Acting and performing in comedy plays was my routine stress buster which started to become more and more difficult to carry out because of my numerous commitments. Stand- up comedy became a great alternate to perform comedy due to its relatively easier preparation and flexibility to adjust to my time schedule. So these four aspects of what I do have happened for a reason and helps me sustain to continue what I do. These challenges have in fact molded me from being a single faceted person to a multi-faceted individual.

Q: Was there any point when you thought it was over? That you were going to fail?

Numerous times. I have failed in almost everything that I have tried to do the first time. Only seen success after failing and improving at least two or three times. This holds most relevance while inventing medical devices. Each device has gone through at least 7-8 iterations before becoming a final product that is safe to use in a patient. For each device,  there has been a time or another where we thought we should just give up because we are not able to meet all required criteria and just then something clicks and an idea works and the problem is solved. on other occasions, I have failed and not recovered. For example, I was developing a noise cancellation tool for a debilitating condition called tinnitus and was unable to have the technology cancel the sounds heard by the patient for more than a few minutes. My team and I failed to figure out a way to make it work and eventually we had to shelf the project till we can understand how to overcome these challenges. It happens. It has taught me when to end a project and when to say – it’s over.

I consider myself to be an expert in mistakes and failures today which reflects in my second book “The benefits of Failing successfully” and my upcoming stand-up comedy show called “F for Failure”.


Q: How important has flexibility been in developing your presence/voice?

Extremely important. While multi-tasking, flexibility has been the key reason that has helped me balance multiple activities. My entire, career structure is designed to accommodate flexibility. My ENT surgical practice is carried out via online clinical portals and an evening clinic. Surgeries are carried out at partnering hospitals based on my availability and preference of the patients. I work with multiple engineering teams to develop products and write books/comedy when I travel. Stand-up comedy performances happen on weekends or are clubbed with official travels related to ENT or device innovations. Time with family is spent on weekends or I take them along with me and club it with travel related to work or comedy.


Q: What was your spark, where did it come from?  

My spark comes from failing and making mistakes.  Knowing that I am unable to do something right is the biggest driving force for me to achieve it and get it right. I fail along the way and improve, eventually till I am successful at the task. If you want me to do something alLow me to fail and the rest will follow.

4. What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?

I consciously try to keep an open mind and am constantly on the look out for opportunities where I can grow. I document anything that is idea-worthy either for inventions or comedy and network extensively with people from diverse backgrounds. Being calm, pleasant and humorous helps me maintain my work-life balance.

5. What is your best tip for people looking to get into this space?

I have 3 main tips:

  1. Identify your capacity and know what you are good at or not and maintain that expectation with people whom you work with.
  2. A good team is more important than a great idea. So form a team first and along with the team identify the problems worth solving and come up with a solution together.
  3. Now is always the best time to do anything. If something tells you to wait because you are not ready, it is your insecurities. The first mover always has the biggest advantage.


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