SXSW: Collaboration, hope, urgency and cultural change

It can feel like the world is changing at lightning speed and at the same time it can feel like nothing has changed.

While attending talks on healthcare at South by Southwest (SXSW) it was easy to get excited about all the future possibilities that technology can offer us and the difficulties we are having working within our current bureaucracies.

I heard pitches for tricorder-like health diagnostic and monitoring devices that offered diagnostics at home. I saw 3D-printed shoes. I heard many people talk about difficulties getting the information they need because of a lack of collaboration and shared infrastructure and the powerful results of collaboration when NASA and radiation therapy experts worked together. I listened to a debate between big healthcare/pharma companies insisting they hold the keys to the future of healthcare via the infrastructure only they can build and startups who insisted that they could go it alone.

The event was highlighted, for me, by listening to Joe Biden send out a call to action as he passionately told the crowd that to cure cancer we need to proceed with a sense of collaboration, urgency, hope and full-scale culture change. In the end, I walked away feeling excited about the future but aware of the work that needs to be done to get there quickly and efficiently. Below are some key themes that emerged for me. They apply to healthcare but to other industries as well that struggle to move into the promise of the future.

You can’t do it alone

Academic institutions, government and corporations have survived and thrived on the basic notion of competition and protectionism. It is at their cultural core. To continue to survive and thrive, we must all move beyond this paradigm and understand what collaboration means in our industries and what it means to solving the problems we’re working on.

Joe Biden’s talk on the Cancer Moonshot highlighted this point through a recounting of the Task Force he built, the initiatives they are working on, and how the success they’re seeing is through the breaking down of silos in government. It's like the Department of Energy’s ability to work with big data though collaborating with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a repository of health records.

It was refreshing to be in a place of such optimism, excitement and possibility.

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