Q: What can the business world learn from healthcare or medicine?
Sadly, most of what can be learned from observing the health care industry is what to avoid. The current shape of health care supply is reliant on the elevated status of clinicians in society, especially doctors. The business of health care cut too many corners in the past so now we don’t really know what anything costs (as opposed to their price) or how to judge whether something was a success or not. As a result we have spurious understandings of “value” and the status of clinicians is being used to shield the industry from criticism. Overall, we’re seeing an erosion of trust, which will undermine the future of the industry. Honesty and authenticity are better values for the long-term.
Q: How did the corporate speaking begin?
By being a pain in the proverbial. I have an annoying habit of wanting to understand things from a zoomed-out perspective, which is a fun conversation for some but torture for most. Doing this one too many times led people to recommend that I consider corporate speaking to help organisations see their challenges in a new light. I suspect it was just a way to stop me asking them questions.
Q: Which event has been your favourite and why?
Being a co-host of TEDMED 2013 was both an honour and a challenge, which makes it my favourite. Behind the glamour of the TED format there needs to be substance to the topics and credibility behind the speakers. The co-host has to allude to all this without resorting to sycophancy or giving the talk away, and without taking the sheen off the previous speaker. It’s an immensely difficult role.
Q: Why do you love being a speaker?
What I love is helping people to see the world differently; speaking is one way to do this. Often this is actually about asking them to see the world for what it really is, rather than the artifices that we have built to make sense of the past. Pretty much all industries are the result of interpretations and assumptions made of the world at the time the industry was born. These interpretations and assumptions enable growth at the beginning but stifle it as the world changes.
Q: If you could speak at any event, past or future, what would it be?
I live in Clerkenwell, London, an often-neglected area between the cold efficiency of the City of London and the entitled glamour of the West End. Clerkenwell has a long history of political activism and dissention, and many public meetings and marches started in a small piece of land that is now Spa Fields Park. I would love to have been at some of these meetings and marches; especially for many of the freedoms we take for granted in Britain today.
Q: Who would you most like to share a platform with?
Ernesto “Che” Guevara fascinates me. I find his unshakable belief in people and communities inspiring. I’m a product of the current medical education system, and, although I believe it to be too patriarchal in its thinking, I find I slip into its lazy short-hand of what should be done to patients as opposed for people. Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a doctor but his thinking apparently changed when he was a medical student, and we all know what he went on to fight for. In truth, though, I don’t think I’d be worthy of sharing a platform with him.
Q: What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?
It really depends on the audience and the context, but my intention is to always help people see the framework in which they’re thinking and working. Stories of real people always help with this, as does creating a seemingly off-the-wall association. The truth is the world is more inter-connected than we believe it is – and we only believe it is because our pursuit of knowledge has created silos of thinking known as academic disciplines. The friction at the borders between disciplines is actually where all the fun happens.
Q: What can a typical corporate audience learn from your experiences?
I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “typical corporate audience” but I do think many industries are struggling with the same problem: the radical changes in behaviour, and hence demand, we’re seeing as a result of eroding faith in big institutions and brands; more isolation as a result of economic migration and ageing; and the rise of trust in smaller, less predictable entities like personal networks. I think these forces are chipping away at many of the foundations that corporations are built on.
Q: What major changes do you foresee in the medical world’s future?
The rise in demand for more personalised care, combined with greater transparency of what works and does not work, will radically change health care from a supply-defined industry to a demand-defined one. Unfortunately, though, I think the health care industry will have to be dragged there kicking and screaming, partly due to its inherent conservatism and partly due to vested interests. As the new reality takes shape I think we’ll see more varied, nuanced and eclectic forms of what we currently call primary care, and more network-based approaches to specialist care.
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