Tyson’s Law

Optimized-MichaelPainterFor more on this session at Health 2. 0 on Monday October 5, see the agenda here.

I’m reading the morning news on my iPad at 32,000 feet en route from New Jersey to Silicon Valley for the annual fall Health 2.0 meeting. I love coming to this place with its promise and hope pushing us toward better futures.

Of course, much of that hope is hitched to faster, smaller, cheaper driven by trusty Moore’s Law. Just when it seemed our Moore’s Law golden goose would soon be waddling a little more slowly, the New York Times reports today that IBM scientists may have found a way to keep the eggs coming. Apparently, they’ve discovered a chip manufacturing approach that may get around the looming laws of physics by using transistors with parallel rows of carbon nanotubes separated by a distance of just a few atoms. Whew.

In another Times article, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, takes us from that atomic level way up here to the macro where most of us live, work, learn and play. Business, Cook says—presumably especially the dynamic technology sector—has civic responsibilities beyond pushing profit.He and Apple, for instance, have made recent stands about equity, and he noted Apple would “continue to evangelize” about it.

I sure hope he’s right and that they do. I also hope that other businesses, entrepreneurs and technologists agree, step up too and, frankly, do more than evangelize.

You see, I’m from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We work with people all over the country who—just like Silicon Valley types—are fervently building a better future. The future we seek though is one where everyone, regardless of who you are, where you live or work or the color of your skin, or whether you’re coping with illness or pursuing wellness, has the realistic hope and a wealth of opportunity to live a healthy life.

We envision a Culture of Health where everyone has a decent crack at that healthy future. We need all the help we can get.

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We also have a theory. We believe that leaders, from all quarters including business and technology, can and will turn their energy, creativity and resources to help create that healthy future. We believe that they will start where they can and that their efforts will increase as they see how great it is to help build healthy futures for everyone. Heck, their efforts might even double, say, every two years too!

Let’s call it Tyson’s Law.

Over lunch on Monday at Health 2.0, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is going to test it. We will challenge participants to direct their passion and innovation skills toward big, hairy, audacious health equity problems.

Five young filmmakers, Ricardo, Jasmine, Lily, Julia and Tyson, from the east and west coasts have created powerful videos that we will use to spark that conversation. The films depict the health inequities these young leaders experience on a daily, grinding basis—like lack of safe neighborhoods, limited access to nutritious foods and poor air quality. One of them, Tyson, for instance, lives in Baltimore. He loves to run free in his neighborhood. He also dares to imagine what it would be like to wake up in the morning and not know that something bad would happen there.

We all want Tyson to imagine grander things than that, and as you can tell from this creative man’s film, indeed he does. He also reminds us that our promising, beautiful, high technology healthy futures will not be worth the effort if we leave people like Tyson, Ricardo, Jasmine, Lily and Julia behind. That’s because in our Culture of Health future, there is no they. We are all in this one together.

Follow our Twitter stream, #CultureofHealth and #TysonsLaw this week. I have a suspicion we’re going to power it up with some pretty cool ideas coming from technology, entrepreneurs and business leaders—ideas that could kick health inequity’s bottom up and down Silicon Valley.

Tyson’s Law starts here and now.

Michael Painter is a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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8 replies »

  1. “It is possible to build a successful growth business while making a serious impact on the Culture of Health future simultaneously!” We completely agree, Katya! Thanks so much for the post–and I hope folks check out the resources on your site to help entrepreneurs learn more about that potential.

  2. Great post Mike, and agree with Bryan’s comment about innovators attacking individual problems. Our thesis at StartUp Health is that entrepreneurs are best positioned to tackle health and health system problems with out of the box thinking..unencumbered by the bureaucracy of large organizations. There’s a great opportunity to educate early-stage digital health entrepreneurs on the opportunities that exist in underserved communities…so much iteration of business models, target markets, etc happens in the first few years (which is why we work with cos for 3 years). It is possible to build a successful growth business while making a serious impact on the Culture of Health future simultaneously! Which is what we’re working on helping with at startuphealth.com/makeanimpact.

    Keep up the good work, we are big fans of RWJF and really enjoy working with you. Looking forward to today’s session!

  3. Completely agree with you, Daniel–we need continuous focus, attention and investment from all quarters. I hope you’re right about that paradigm shifting.. Thanks for the always insightful comment.

  4. We need both the micro and the macro views. Focusing on individual stories makes it real and human, which matters to individuals, communities and policy makers who need to understand what they do matters, and hopefully motivate urgent action, everyday. On the other hand we also need our technologists to help enable our systems with the ability to link and share data across the chasms that separate programs from one another, even though they are serving the same human. So, it really comes down to a “BOTH AND” approach. We need continuous focus, attention and investment to educate, incentivize and activate people across the whole spectrum of health and human services to see that their contributions matter and that progress is made day by day; step by step; and system by system.

    The good news is that the momentum has shifted and the pieces are in place to usher in the paradigm shift we have been working towards. Note the recent federal notification that specifically articulates that three federal agencies (CMS, FNS and ACF) will continue to support integrated care and provide financial incentives to support interoperability and by extension the implementation of the Social Determinants of Health and Wellness (or in other parlance where we live, learn, work, play and pray.

  5. Thanks, Josh–great insight. Stories push our emotion-but we need data for health to drive our interventions and actions. We also need great use cases of data to help achieve health equity–could not agree more. Thanks for the great comment.

  6. Nice piece. Worth noting much of the new public data covers not only prevalence and disparities but also behaviors. This data not only adds to traditional healthcare picture but out performs claims and EHR data in identifying and projecting the economic impact of an actual disease burden – and where that follows, or breaks from typical system interaction and coding.

    All that’s to say the stories are powerful but the phenomena they describe has not only an impact on individuals but the system. Rather than an ancillary note, the issues portrayed actually drive the health of our system and can be quantified and tied to community initiatives with precision, or market mechanisms.

    Those interested in creating policy to change the narrative depicted should consider doing so with the data through ad hoc innovation, community interventions and market / government program reimbursement mechanisms.

  7. Thanks, Bryan. Looking forward to the session today–and learning from you, Thomas Goetz and the participants. See you there.

  8. These are powerful films and the kids raise some seriously deep issues. One of the big challenges with problems this large is that it’s hard to see how a solution can be crafted — we tend to look at the whole issue and as a result “boil the ocean.” IMHO, the right answer is to try and break the big problems down into small pieces, and attack each one separately, both by leveraging technology but also implementing solutions in physical space. I’m looking forward to discussing this in more detail at the workshop!