Develop a Strategic Initiative with UC Berkeley’s Steven Weber and Health 2.0 EDU

Technology is changing at a rapid pace, so what does this mean for those developing business strategies attempting to keep ahead of the curve?

Steven Weber PhD, Professor at Berkeley Haas School of Business, will put your mind at ease in his joint class with Heath 2.0 EDU this October. His years of expertise with national and international security strategy will provide health care executives the foundation and insights they need for the future of digital health.

EDU: Your background is in international and national security. What are the parallels between security and health care? How does security factor into how an organization implements new innovations?

SW: My work in national and international security has always focused on strategic interaction — how the agendas and actions of one country modify the landscape of choices for another country.  It’s a historical pattern, almost a constant, that national leaders have a very difficult time understanding these strategic responses because they find it almost impossible to see the trade-offs that they impose on others, from the other’s perspective.  And since strategy is almost always about modulating trade-offs, the most important thing a great strategist can do is to change the trade-off calculation for other players in the environment.  My guiding principle is simply this: “make it as easy as possible, for the ‘other guy’ to do what would most benefit you.” Putting that simple notion into practice is the hardest and most important ingredient of innovative strategy.

EDU: You have also consulted for numerous public, private, and international organizations: how are they each using digital technology to foster innovation?

SW: Innovation means many different things to different people.  When I say ‘innovation’, I mean the use of ideas, both new and recombinant, in the service of creating new value.  Digital technology can obviously be a major driver of innovation because digital is very good at encoding ideas [rather than throwing] new resources at an old problem. But I think the most important contribution of digital technology to the innovation agenda is in creating transparency within organizations. The kind of transparency that matters? Exposing dead conventions, old and encrusted ways of doing things that have been around so long that no one puts a question mark over them anymore.

EDU: What is the first step in strategic thinking that every executive should take when he or she thinks about how to steer an organization to success three years out?

SW: For many executives, three years in the future might as well be science fiction. Much of my advisory work has been about helping executives who simply cannot afford to think that way — for example, in industries that require large upfront investments with long term, even 25 year, amortization periods. And the simplest common lesson I’ve drawn from that work is that to plan for 3 years in the future, you need to imagine the business environment out at least 5 or 6 years in the future. If you are planning for 5 years think 10; if 10, think 20.  It’s not really that the future is coming at us any faster, it’s simply that the planning mind is naturally tethered to what it knows how to manage. The real trick is pushing the strategic conversation to the edge of plausibility and then pulling back just a tad. That’s where the insights start to bite.

EDU: If you could sit down with President Obama today, what would your advice be to get the US to be more innovative as a country?

SW: There’s no shortage of innovation advice landing on President Obama’s desk these days, and the issue obviously needs to be addressed from many different angles.  But if I had to prioritize one area of action, I would attack the issue at the intersection of capital expenditures and intellectual property protection. The upfront capital expenditure needed to create innovation prototypes is still too high in most sectors of the US economy.  And, our means of valuing intellectual assets so that the returns to innovation are (appropriately) huge but don’t block other innovation pathways going forward, are not working well. The patent system is, like Churchill said of democracy, the worst possible way of doing things except for any other way we know. This needs experimental work, and there are lots of good ideas out there which we ought to be testing rather than arguing about as if it were theology.

EDU: What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming UC Berkeley/Health 2.0 course?

SW: What I’m looking forward to in Health 2.0 is turning the conversation toward Health 3.0. I think we’re well along the way towards 2.0, which to my mind is centrally about automation and efficiency improvements in more or less existing processes.  Any of us who have worked in the health care delivery system know that there is at least a 20% improvement in costs and outcomes that could be achieved simply by reducing the amount of stupidity in the system: sloppy record keeping in non-compatible formats, redundant and unnecessary testing, opaque payer systems, lousy communications among elements of the delivery system and between the system and the patient, and the like.  That’s hard, but we’ll get much of that done in time. It is time to look aggressively beyond that set of improvements and toward the possibility of more revolutionary change. And to my mind, the low-hanging fruit there lies in helping individual people to understand and change behaviors that directly impact their health and happiness. A big part of the next phase of health care will be about empowering individuals in modifying those behaviors.

Registration for the executive course ends September 1, 2013. The full agenda is available HERE.