I gatecrashed a party and met some healthy thinkers

Ryan Wallman
April 22, 2015

healthcare communications

Last night I attended the Google Firestarters event at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was invitation-only, mainly for agency planners and strategists, so you’re probably wondering how I made it past security with my teeth intact.

All I can say is that Eaon Pritchard, who was speaking at the event, must have sent the invitation to the wrong person. Poor old Ryan Williams is probably still wondering why he didn’t crack an invite.

But I digress.

The title of the event was ‘Adaptive Strategy for an Adaptive Age’. Now, I’ll confess that I was mildly apprehensive about this. I fully expected lots of talk about the latest digital shiny things: a Monty Python-esque fascination with ‘machines that go “bing!”. (Although given the context, perhaps that should be ‘machines that go “Google!”.’) 

I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised, for two reasons.

First, there was barely any mention of apps or algorithms or aggregators. And I didn’t hear the description ‘game-changer’ once. Thank God.

Second, the discussion regularly had me nodding my head (with agreement, not drowsiness) because of its relevance to the healthcare context.

For example, a recurring theme of the presentations was the need to understand the real problem you’re trying to solve. That is, not to simply accept a brief at face value and rush into solutions, but to keep asking questions until the underlying problem reveals itself.

In fact, Eaon concluded that adaptive strategy is about acknowledging what we don’t know and even ‘embracing stupidity’ (a topic also discussed by Drayton Bird in this recent interview).

It immediately struck me that this approach is analogous to the process for treating a medical condition.

When a patient comes to a doctor with a symptom, the doctor does not simply prescribe something for the symptom and send them on their way. The doctor begins the diagnostic process by asking questions. Indeed, there is an adage in medicine that 70% of the diagnosis is made on history (i.e. questioning) alone. 

So that certainly struck a chord with me.

As did another theme of the presentations, which was the importance of simplification. All of the speakers alluded to the idea that in this era when our options for communication are multiplying like so many digital rabbits, it’s more important than ever to keep it simple.

Again, this has an obvious parallel with healthcare. Good diagnosticians use the principle of Occam’s razor – that is, they try to find the simplest answer to a presenting problem.

So for agencies, as for healthcare, the lessons are clear:

  1. Ask questions until you get to the source of the problem (take a thorough history)
  2. Look for the simplest explanation (make a judicious diagnosis)
  3. Then, and only then, decide on your tactics (start treatment).

This is not new thinking. But it remains crucial in a time of rapid technological change.

Because when this process is overlooked, it almost inevitably results in the wrong treatment for an undefined problem – including lots of useless, expensive machines that go “bing!”.

 

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

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