10 PROSPECTIVE CEOS. 10 WICKED PROBLEMS. 10 DAYS. What happens when successful entrepreneurs focus on the world’s wicked problems?
I am honored that I was chosen to be one of the PROSPECTIVE CEO’S to attend this year’s 10.10.10 challenge where over the course of 10 (actually 11) days in June, a group of 10 CEOs, successful entrepreneurs from across the United States, came together to face a monumental challenge. Our task? Confront 10 WICKED problems in health. Our goal? Exploration, discovery, understanding. Our hope? To create a new venture based on a new product or service that can change the world.
WHAT’S A WICKED PROBLEM
Complex. Malignant. Nebulous. Profound… and that’s just the beginning.
A problem doesn’t achieve WICKED status just because it’s really big or really difficult. Building a skyscraper is a huge and complex problem. Deriving the field equations for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity is extraordinarily hard to do. But neither are WICKED problems. WICKEDness is not a matter of degree.
First outlined by two Berkeley professor in 1973, WICKED problems elude description and defy solution. They stem from numerous causes, spread in every direction and tend to become entangled with other WICKED problems. What’s worse, conventional approaches to addressing them usually just make things worse. They can be a societal scourge, such as poverty, or a seemingly more specific problem, like Alzheimer’s disease.
THE TOPICS AT THIS YEAR’S CHALLENGE WERE:
THE NEXUS OF HOMELESSNESS, HOUSING AND HEALTH
For the homeless, no amount of health care can substitute stable housing
Alzheimer’s: the 6th leading cause of death in the US & will affect 50M people by 2030
If all 12.7 million US obese children become obese adults, the societal costs may exceed $1.1 trillion
IMPROVING HEALTHCARE QUALITY: NARROWING THE CHASM BETWEEN THE CARE WE EXPECT AND THE CARE WE RECEIVE.
If medical error was a disease, it would rank as the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. A stat from @bmj_lates
Health literacy, insurance and decision making: reducing the cost of healthcare delivery through improved health literacy
Healthcare costs have risen 120% since 2000, & are expected to rise +80% to $5.5 trillion by 2024.
CHRONIC PAIN MANAGEMENT
46 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses.
By 2050, the number of Americans 65+ will multiply from 46 million today to 88 million.
MENTAL HEALTH MANAGEMENT
Global cost of mental disease is expected to grow to $6 trillion in 2030 from $2.5 trillion in 2010.
REDUCING THE ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN
Admin costs currently represent 18% of US health care spending, leaving less than 73% of spending for clinical care.
TOXIC STRESS AND ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EVENTS (ACES)
4 or more ACEs shortens your life by 20 years.
As a public relations entrepreneur with 27 years of experience, I scratched my head and thought, do I belong at this challenge? I have never built or announced my own product, or gone to the VC community to raise funds. Actually take that back. I have launched a product which is Be Cause PR. I have always launched other people and products and thought I have lived behind the scenes of the people and companies as they spoke for their cause and their company with products and initiatives. But you know what? I really wasn’t. I was always listening and learning and launching on my own as well. I just was not aware of it until I attended 10.10.10.
As I talked to the Executive Director and the President of 10.10.10 I kept asking them, are you sure you want me to come to this Challenge? And they would say over and over again, you are a perfect fit for this event. You will add a different perspective, actually many, to the Challenge. I thought ok, let’s go for it. So off to Denver I went for 12 days. No stress – yeah, right. But I was curious, excited, and yes, a little scared to be around other top CEOs in the country.
The biggest thing that kept coming to my mind was, Cathy, you will be in your element. You are a CEO. You have run Be Cause PR for 20 years. You have worked with some of the greatest thinkers and heretics in the world. You are not just a PR person. And I thought, by attending this Challenge that I would be “standing up” for our profession and showing others how important we are to solving WICKED problems in the healthcare industry.
I keep reading about how PR professionals have more stressful jobs than CEOs. When you think about it, it really makes sense. We are conduits, work with many audiences to convey the right messages for effect, we brand, write, consult, analyze, create, and for the most part, many times, we find ourselves in a position such as the Secretary of State would. We may be at the sides of our clients. But we are also behind them and ahead of them. We may be their voice, their ideas, and their conscience. So while attending this Challenge I was humbled. I was supported by the other nine CEOs who all had made the bucks launching companies and products and had gone before VCs to raise capital for their ideas.
During this time where we spent hours researching, talking to our teammates, reaching out to validators and ninjas who are subject matter experts in the 10 WICKED problems, and experts in the health industry. I thought, I can pick a problem, see an opportunity to fix it, and maybe even build a product around it. It was an exhausting and sometimes very stressful experience because the whole process was very organic. Not process driven like Corporate America tends to have us follow.
We had a support system put in place. But it was up to us to bring our teams together, build tribes, know who we had to reach out to to get the information we needed, work under deadlines, and most of all, believe in ourselves, get to know ourselves better, and remember that we were there to learn more about how we can make an impact in this world by solving WICKED problems. “Game On” I kept saying to myself and others.
For about six days I could not find a team to work with me. The topic I chose wasToxic Stress. No one seemed to want to touch it. Actually, none of the topics were easy to tackle. But Toxic Stress for some reason seemed to scare people. Because when you think about it, this topic brought the entire WICKED problems together under one roof. I did not think about the topic. I FELT IT.
I finally found a team by watching how the people around me worked. We had bios to study, but this is not the way I work. I watch people and how they interact with one another, how they also build teams, and how they work under pressure. And I always look for the linchpins! This is what I have done my entire career. But I never really thought of myself as someone who can build a team and lead a team the way I was being asked to do at this event. I brought in a volunteer who had great marketing experience, a student who had a degree in biology, and two very successful business owners who had great visions for how to build a product.
We were under a very tight deadline since I was about four days behind the timeline we were supposed to be working under. But then again, there were no rules at this event. The CEOs made their own rules up and worked with their own style, hearts, and minds. Isn’t this what starting and running a business is all about?
We worked until the last minute crafting a speech I would give to 500 people in the healthcare industry in Colorado. No pressure there. Was I nervous yes? Was I excited? Yes. And to add the icing to the cake, our team actually had some product ideas around how to help that baby in the incubator and its mother feel connected. My goal the entire time was to communicate to our audiences the need for CONNECTION and EMPATHY, which today are two things missing in the medical industry, and as we know, life in general as technology is beginning to run us. We are losing connection. The healthcare industry is a mess. We need to be hardwired more than ever, especially that poor baby in the incubator.
So I chose to focus on one tiny but very critical element that could lead to toxic stress — what happens to a baby that lives in an incubator and is separated at birth from its mother (parents) after it is born. This was personal to me since I started my life this way and I believe where toxic stress can start and lead to future toxic stressors in that child’s life. Again, my main point I wanted to pop out was that toxic stressors, also known as ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) start for a baby who starts its life in an incubator. And don’t forget the parents and the amount of stress they are going on. The whole family is in fight and flight mode.
As I spoke I explained to the audience that we need to “evolve” the incubator with technology, or even simple things such as music being piped in, holograms, a blanket that the baby can hang out on that will have its mother’s heartbeat beating away or a two paneled incubator where different colors could illuminate through. Yes, the FDA has a huge hold on medicine and equipment. And our team knew this. But we also knew that we could take baby steps (excuse the pun) to make some changes that would enable the mother and child to attach right from the get go.
Can you imagine how a mother and a father feels while they watch their baby cry in an incubator as they stands behind a glass window (their own incubator)? And the baby is no doubt wondering where its mother is, where is heartbeat? And why is the baby alone and feeling like it is going to die? We have to change this.
The speech was a success even though I missed some key facts. But it touched people and made them think. This was my goal. To inspire, empower, and educate. I finally got to use my voice and was no longer behind a CEO who was giving a presentation I had heard a hundred times over and even helped write it. I was not writing a press release. I was the press release. And I came home a changed person. I now have a purpose in life and I am going to do everything I can to see if we can move the needle around how incubator babies come into this world.
The main take-away for me is that we are all artists, entrepreneurs, and you bet, CEOs. We all have a fire in our belly and need to use that fire, that passion to solve problems or maybe even start our own company. We all can make a difference. And we must believe in ourselves and know that yes, we can make a social impact. No idea is a bad idea. Please remember this. We can lead and build our tribes to create community, solve WICKED problems, and empower others to do what they have always wanted to do. Are you ready to tackle a WICKED problem? I know you are. So go for it! And please check out 101010.net to see how you can be a part of their 2017 event.