Fans of HBO’s Silicon Valley may be familiar with an episode from the first season where every company, from food delivery to sticker design, says they are “changing the world.” The montage ran as a commentary on corporate justification of relatively insignificant innovation.
By contrast, Norman Winarsky’s book “If You Really Want to Change the World: A Guide to Creating, Building, and Sustaining Breakthrough Ventures,” takes a different approach and shares wisdom for building long-lasting innovation. A Silicon Valley veteran, Norman is a formally trained mathematician, technologist, and co-founder of Siri. After reading his book, I reflected on Norman’s disciplined approach to identifying areas ripe for sustainable change. It struck me that his view offers a glimpse at what troubled me about the Silicon Valley montage.
Large-scale changes, from behavioral change to social revolutions, rise from extraordinary environments. Leonardo da Vinci was a brilliant innovator, but he was also mentored and molded by the artists of Renaissance Florence. Many have compared Silicon Valley to the Florence of da Vinci’s day – when the right minds are in the right environment, new ideas can be realized and transformation will thrive. But to truly change the world, we must harness Silicon Valley’s energy in a meaningful way against the chief problems of our day. One could argue that healthcare needs this energy more than any other industry.
When asked about Health2047, I reference our mission to catalyze fundamental change in healthcare. As we consider what this change could look like, a few key tenets prevail:
First, a recognition that collaboration is critical. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Collective impact is based on the idea that social problems arise from and persist because of a complex combination of actions and omissions by players in all sectors—and therefore can be solved only by the coordinated efforts of those players, from businesses to government agencies, charitable organizations, and members of affected populations.”
Health2047’s ethos is that collectively we can do more together than we can do alone. To be frank, the healthcare system’s disarray is a result of a lack of collaboration manifested over years of competing incentives. The only way to work through the quagmire is with equivalently juxtaposed large-scale cooperation between physicians, healthcare systems, and technologists focusing on the right things.
Second, this imperative to work on the right ideas is paramount. As a transplant to Silicon Valley, the entire place appears to be a sparkling dreamscape built on continued flow of new ideas. These ideas, created by ordinary people in an extraordinary circumstance, drive half of all of venture investment, unapparelled industry creation and growth, and impact. This requires unconstrained creativity to imagine a different future. It has spawned the titans of our day—Google, Amazon, Facebook—that have transformed how billions of people interact, consume, and live.
Unfortunately, Silicon Valley’s imagination can also produce ideas that are creative, but do not address our biggest challenges. They find an eddy of value that returns capital with measured or limited impact. While there are useful learnings that can be extracted from these ventures, setting our sights on healthcare transformation is the type of innovation that can actually change the world.
Finally, significant breakthroughs require audacious thinking. Change in healthcare must be driven by collaboration between medicine and technology, but unless the ideas are extreme, the change will only be on the surface. Patients deserve better. Real system-level change that makes a lasting impact is built on a foundation of out-of-the-box thinking that boldly questions the systems that are currently in place. Instead of examining our current care model, what if we changed the model entirely? For example, what could a trillion dollars spent on a thoughtfully integrated personal care system for chronic diseases look like? How do we scale the brilliant tools being developed for processing large amounts of information and data into the hands of care providers to transform the reach and relevance of the most brilliant minds in medicine?
If Silicon Valley is going to claim to change the world, it must ensure that the change is positive, sustainable, and necessary. Transformative change in healthcare is transformative change for all of us, and Silicon Valley is in a prime position to lead the way. With a bold and collective approach, we might look back on this time in 2047 and see the building blocks for a result as significant as the Mona Lisa.