Observations from a Week on the Road


Last week I had the opportunity to attend a couple of conferences and speak at each of them. I wanted to share both my presentations and my observations from these two trips. I think there’s a little something for everyone.

Conference one was ePatient Connections in Philadelphia to start off the week. As I’ve said before, this is one of my favorite conferences of the year for a few reasons. First, it’s a diverse audience and group of speakers. There is certainly a lot of healthcare-specific content, but there are also presentations from outside healthcare (including the keynote talk from Seth Godin). I’ll tell you why I think this is important later. Second, each speaker gets 15 minutes max. That means a fast-moving conference that keeps your interest. It means that you get just enough from the really good presentations and the bad ones are over soon enough. Fortunately, there aren’t too many bad ones at this conference, but I know you’ve seen them before at other conferences (especially when they last 45-60 minutes).

I could make a ton of observations and review a bunch of topics that were presented, but others have already done a good job on that.

I actually just want to make one observation that I think everyone reading this ought to pay attention to. The final presentation on Day 1 was done by Dan Licht from Zemoga and Piers Fawkes from PSFK. They did a great presentation on how UNICEF is leveraging digital technology to advance many of its goals. Two things, however, stood out to me from Dan and Piers’ presentation. First, almost no one in the audience knew what PSFK was much less actually reads their blog and other thought leadership work. This is a huge miss. EVERYONE should be reading what PSFK puts out there. Subscribe to their updates and you won’t be sorry. They always have the latest in digital technology and marketing long before anyone else is talking about it. I hear many of you asking how it’s possible to stay up to date on the latest that’s out there and wondering where to look for inspiration for your  next idea. Well, if you’re not looking at PSFK as a source, then you’re not looking in the right places.

The other thing that stood out was the response to a simple question that Dan asked. He asked everyone who looks outside of healthcare for ideas and inspiration to raise their hands. From my informal count, I’d say that less than 10 of the 150+ people in attendance raised their hands. That’s not a good sign. If you’re wondering how the healthcare industry is going to catch up to other industries when it comes to digital technology, marketing, and, indeed, delivering what its customers expect, then you are seriously mistaken in my opinion. The innovation isn’t going to come from within healthcare. It is going to come from outside the industry with someone applying learnings from elsewhere to healthcare. The healthcare industry won’t invent healthcare innovation for itself. That’s not how industry-wide innovation works for the most part and especially not in healthcare when it comes to anything digital technology related. You need a diverse group of thinkers to enable real change (hence why I think having Seth Godin speak was a great choice).

When Dan asked that question, every single person in the audience should have raised their hand. I’ve received a lot of feedback from many people on this blog and the one positive thing that I hear pretty consistently is that people appreciate the different approach and thinking that I apply to many challenges in the healthcare industry. Where do you think these come from? I’ll give you a hint…it’s not from observing more healthcare companies. It comes from looking everywhere else and figuring out the one nugget that can be applied to solve a problem in healthcare. If you’re not doing this, you’re doing yourself and your company a major disservice.

That’s observation number 1 from conference number 1.

If you’re interested in my presentation from the conference, I’ve embedded it below. If you watch it and want to get a copy of my slides, you can download a copy of  Elephants Can Dance and Hippos Can Limbo (169 downloads). I’ll warn you before you watch the video. If you like the status quo and don’t want to hear my opinion on how the pharma industry must dramatically change in the future in order to remain solvent (including potentially not even selling drugs), then don’t watch the presentation. If you want an early warning of these changes and what to do about them, then please check it out. Special thanks to ePatient Connections for supplying the video (including editing).

Conference two was Social Media Week in Bogota, Colombia (that’s Bogota in the picture at the top of this post). Social Media Week happens each year around this time and simultaneously in multiple countries. I was invited to head down to Colombia to present an updated version of the talk I did at SXSW (Your Computer Is the Next Wonder Drug). Here’s another case where I think the healthcare industry could learn a lot from what’s happening outside the industry. In my presentation, I cite several of the biggest problems faced by the healthcare system and how the current approaches we use simply isn’t solving them. So, in my opinion, this means that we have to do things a bit differently. The main thesis is that we shouldn’t rely completely on new drugs to solve our problems, but rather to focus on using digital technology to make all of our approaches even more effective.

There are actually two big observations I’d like to share about my time in Colombia. First, nearly everyone in the room for my presentation was there to hear about social media. Only a handful had any experience or worked at all on anything related to healthcare. Despite this, they were incredibly engaged and had a ton of questions afterwards. What’s the point? They were all interested in how technology was going to play out in healthcare and, as far as I could tell, were thinking about their knowledge of digital technology and how they might use that to improve healthcare. I might venture to say that they’ll develop more solutions for healthcare than anyone who focuses entirely on healthcare. So, back to my first observation, everyone else is looking at other industries for innovation, but there’s one other point. They’re also looking at other industries for opportunity. Where they see no one leading or doing innovative things, they’re moving in. So, for all you agency folks that focus only on healthcare and never look outside, trust me, your days are numbered. Start studying before you’re displaced by others who offer the innovation your clients are demanding.

The second big observation is that Colombia has a talented and very hungry group of people with a lot of digital expertise waiting to unleash that all over the world. You probably haven’t considered an agency or a group of people from Colombia as a competitor if you’re based in the US or EU, but rest assured, you will eventually. Some of them will eat your lunch. Period. The workforce is full of ambitious and knowledgable folks who are looking for opportunities around the world (which is probably one of the reasons they focused on my presentation despite it being in English).

You can download a copy of my presentation on Slideshare if you want . Also, you can watch my presentation below if you’re interested. Two warnings. First, the Spanish translation is what you’ll hear, so if you don’t speak Spanish, it’ll probably be hard to follow. Also, about the first 10-15 minutes of the presentation is missing, so some of the context is lost. If you want to see a version that’s pretty close to this and in English check it out here.

Special thanks to the people at ProExport Colombia for sponsoring my trip to Bogota. They are responsible for promoting tourism and business in Colombia. I also got to meet and be interviewed by the folks from Cafe de Colombia, who are the people responsible for Juan Valdez. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Juan, but others did. Seriously. Maybe next time. Thanks to everyone who made my trip to Colombia outstanding. Coming from the US, we have all these preconceived notions and stereotypes of Colombia, which I can tell you from experience are completely untrue. If you have a chance to get down there, take it.


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One thought on “Observations from a Week on the Road

  1. Boyer Marty

    Nice piece JMR. Definitely agree that we have to learn from sister orgs and efforts. 

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