Lyons is the author of Disrupted, the buzzy new book about what happens when a curmudgeonly fifty-ish tech writer gets unceremoniously dumped from a plum role at Newsweek and takes a job as a “content generator” at Hubspot, a white-hot Boston startup selling marketing software.
Best known for creating a “Fake Steve Jobs” blog, and more recently for his work on the writing team for HBO’s achingly funny Silicon Valley, Lyons has a taste for the absurd, and his prologue (excerpt here)–describing his initial experience at Hubspot–is a laugh-out-loud takedown of tech startup culture.
The fun only lasts a few chapters, however (captured perfectly in this review by Erin Griffith), as Lyons hopes to convey a more serious point (conveniently summarized in an op-ed in today’s New York Times): that the excitement around technology companies is largely empty hype, enthusiasm used to sucker naïve young adults to work for peanuts (and candy), and to enrich savvy founders and venture capital investors, and the investment bankers who enable them, at the expense of the gullible mom and pop investors who buy shares of these fast-growing but often profitless companies after they go public.Continue reading…
“There is no doubt there are some obnoxious people throwing around arrogant/naive ideas. However, the “creative destruction” and “disruptive innovation” that has been most impactful has come from physician-entrepreneurs. Often, they are the most provocative and hard-hitting in their language.
It seems loosely similar to how the most virulent anti-smokers are former smokers. They want others who they can relate to experience the liberation they’ve experienced.
I wouldn’t assume ill-intent from these MD-entrepreneurs using direct language. They simply were fed up with what they experienced as “broken” and stepped up with approaches that have out-performed.
I’m thinking about the MD-entrepreneurs and innovators who have led CareMore, Nuka Model of Care, Qliance, Iora Health, MedLion, Healthcare Partners, etc. Sometimes to catalyze change, one must use stark, hard-hitting language.
That doesn’t seem like a foreign concept to the many excellent MDs I’ve known over the years. I have enormous respect for any entrepreneur, especially one coming from tradition-bound professions who are willing to stick their neck out and endure enormous personal financial risk.
Bob Margolis shared how his colleagues referred to him as a “communist” and his team-based model as “communism” yet Bob’s org achieved far better outcomes. He had the last laugh when that “communist” sold his business for $4.4B last year.
The comments from these MD-entrepreneurs is they feel they aren’t doing their MD friends any favors by candy-coating what is widely recognized as a system that isn’t close to reaching its full potential.
In contrast, the orgs those MD-entrepreneurs are running are the reigning “Triple Aim Champs” that we should celebrate — colorful language or not. Often the most impactful entrepreneurs aren’t particularly “polite” in their language — Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison et al called it like they saw it.
From childhood most of us remember the sage parental advice on how to deal with bullies–“sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.
Of course, we all know that words do hurt, maybe not physically, but they certainly take a toll on our psyche.
These days in planning meetings at my own company, in articles I read on the web and at various tech industry conferences, I come across words and language that I know feel hurtful, or are at least disrespectful, to the health industry and the people who work there. I hear cavalier talk about the need to disrupt the healthcare industry.
Some thought leaders even say we will creatively destruct the healthcare industry. Consumers armed with technology will rise up, they say, and disrupt everything about the current state of healthcare.
Now imagine for a minute that you are a hospital executive, a doctor, a nurse or other clinician and you hear people who work outside your industry talking about disrupting or destructing it.
Imagine being told that consumers, patients, and tech companies will rise up and destroy your business.
There you are doing the best you can to make it through each day keeping your hospital or practice economically sound, dealing with the barrage of patients at your door, staying one step ahead of ever-increasing rules, regulations and rising costs, while those who’ve never worked a day in your world tell you they are going to disrupt and/or destroy it.
Even if there is a need to disrupt healthcare (and even many who work in the health industry might agree), nobody appreciates being told by some outsider that they know your business better than you do.
I don’t imagine my colleagues who work at Microsoft (or Google, or Apple, or Amazon) would appreciate being told by a hospital administrator or a doctor that they knew better how to run a tech company, or what ails the tech industry.
Nor do I think that most patients and consumers can really appreciate the amazing complexity of our healthcare system or the unbelievable pressures under which it operates these days.
Say “employee benefits” and pensions and health care will jump to most people’s minds. Maybe life and disability insurance will pop up as well. But employers in Silicon Valley are going way beyond that. They’re providing housekeeping, cooking, babysitting and a host of other services as perks for their employees. According to The New York Times, here is what some California companies are doing:
At Evernote, a software company, 250 employees — every full-time worker, from receptionist to top executive — have their homes cleaned twice a month, free. Stanford School of Medicine is piloting a project to provide doctors with housecleaning and in-home dinner delivery. Genentech offers take-home dinners and helps employees find last-minute babysitters when a child is too sick to go to school.
To hear the employer representatives tell it, companies are providing their workers with services that make it easier to balance home and family life in an age when there are few stay-at-home spouses and work is stressful.
Working in the health care space has forced me to give up many hopes and expectations that I had a few years ago. Forgive me for being cynical (it’s an easy feeling to have following the country’s largest health IT conference, as I reported a month ago), and indeed some positive trends do step in to shore up hope. I’ll go over the redeeming factors after listing the five tough lessons.
1. The health care field will not adopt a Silicon Valley mentality
Wild, willful, ego-driven experimentation–a zeal for throwing money after intriguing ideas with minimal business plans–has seemed work for the computer field, and much of the world is trying to adopt a “California optimism.” A lot of venture capitalists and technology fans deem this attitude the way to redeem health care from its morass of expensive solutions that don’t lead to cures. But it won’t happen, at least not the way they paint it.
Health care is one of the most regulated fields in public life, and we want it that way. From the moment we walk into a health facility, we expect the staff to be following rigorous policies to avoid infections. (They don’t, but we expect them to.) And not just anybody can set up a shield outside the door and call themselves a doctor. In the nineteenth century it was easier, but we don’t consider that a golden age of medicine.
Instead, doctors go through some of the longest and most demanding training that exists in the world today. And even after they’re licensed, they have to regularly sign up for continuing education to keep practicing. Other fields in medicine are similar. The whole industry is constrained by endless requirements that make sure the insiders remain in their seats and no “disruptive technologies” raise surprises. Just ask a legal expert about the complex mesh of Federal and state regulations that a health care provider has to navigate to protect patient privacy–and you do want your medical records to be private, don’t you?–before you rave about the Silicon Valley mentality. Also read the O’Reilly book by Fred Trotter and David Uhlman about the health care system as it really is.
Apparently, the secret to Silicon Valley’s success isn’t just the good weather and smart people – turns out, the secret to our region’s entrepreneurial preeminence just may be the way we embrace failure.
According to KPCB life-science (devices) partner Dana Mead – who notes he hails from the northeast — there’s a world of difference between Palo Alto and Cambridge (MA).
In Cambridge, he contends in a recent (and, as always, informative) lecture/podcast at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, if you tell people your last three businesses failed, “they’ll look at you sideways” and shake their heads, presumably with a mixture of sadness and pity. In Palo Alto, by contrast, the reaction will be “that’s awesome! I’m sure your next company will be a world-beater.”