SHSMD17 – Day 3 – Upping the dose of perspective

Day 3 reaffirmed that SHSMD17 was all about giving attendees perspective. However, unlike Day 1 where opening keynote Ceci Connolly spoon fed the audience her insightful healthcare perspective, Day 3’s keynote speakers, Mick Ebeling and Amy Herman, inspired and taught the audience how gain a better perspective.

Lunchtime keynotes are always challenging – there is constant clinking of cutlery and people are often more focused on their meal than the speaker. It was a testament to Ebeling that his presentation was so riveting that there was almost complete silence. Right from the start, it was clear this would not be your “normal” keynote. Clad in jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap, Ebeling captured the audience’s attention with his amazing journey of success through impossible projects.

The journey started when Ebeling was the head of a film production studio in LA. A last minute decision to attend a gallery event led to learn of Tempt One, a talented street artist who had become bedridden with ALS. Tempt could only communicate by blinking his eyes when his family pointed to the right letter on a piece of paper. Appalled at how absurd it was that in this modern age, someone had to resort to using the alphabet printed on paper to communicate, Ebeling decided to help the family pay for a “Steven Hawking device” so that Tempt could “talk” to his family again. That alone was a noble gesture, but then Ebeling did something that would change his life, and the world – he made a commitment that he would find a way for Tempt to create art again.

With that, Ebeling set out to create a device that would allow Tempt to paint using nothing but his eyes. He gathered a bunch of smart people in his home and through grit and determination they hacked together what would eventually become the EyeWriter. They used off-the-shelf parts from Radio Shack and Home Depot along with the camera from a Sony Playstation. Armed with Ebeling’s device, Tempt.

The act of committing to solve a problem THEN figuring out how to actually solve it, became Ebeling’s mantra. He founded Not Impossible Labs and tackled the problem of children amputees in war-ravaged Sudan. Dubbed “Project Daniel”, Ebeling and his team used 3D printers and down-to-earth engineering to develop prosthetic limbs that could be produced by locals for less than $100 (compared with $15,000 for a typical prosthetic arm). Project Daniel won international acclaim.

Ebeling saved his most powerful story for last. After developing a set of wearable blue-tooth vibration generators to help deaf people experience music (a wrist unit might be the guitar, while the foot unit might be vocals and a chest unit drums), a member of the Not Impossible team thought the devices might help patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. You can watch this incredible story here.

Through his stories of triumph over the impossible, Ebeling changed the audience’s perspective on what’s possible. Suddenly healthcare’s problems didn’t seem all that daunting anymore.

Everything that is possible today was at one point in the past, impossible. Impossible is therefore only a temporary state of being.

Where Ebeling inspired the SHSMD17 audience to reconsider their perspectives, the SHSMD17 afternoon keynote, Herman, provided the audience with the tools necessary to actually change perspectives.

Herman, an art historian and attorney, became a sought-after lecturer after she began using art to hone the skills of Homicide Detectives in the New York City Police Department. The success of her class garnered national attention and she has since trained intelligence agencies, the FBI, elite military teams, first responders, local law enforcement and even ER/OR/Trauma teams in healthcare.

Using only pictures of art and artwork, Herman, took the SHSMD17 audience through a series of exercises designed to strip away people’s ingrained perception biases and experiential assumptions – referred to as “perception anchors”.

The first exercise was designed to highlight how much power our personal experiences exert on our perception. Herman asked audience members to pair up and had one person close their eyes. Using only words, the other person was shown a piece of art and asked to describe it to their partner. At the end of a minute the partner open their eyes to see how close their imagined image was to the actual piece.

After the chuckles died down, Herman revealed that in almost 90% of the time the describer fails to tell their partner the type of art they are describing – a painting vs a photo or sculpture. This critical piece of information seems obvious, yet in the heat of the moment this critical piece of information is often overlooked. Herman went further and said that in more than 50% of the time the describer skips over the common objects that are in the painting – the table, the fruit and strings of pearls around the woman’s neck.

Herman’s most powerful exercise – and the one most applicable to healthcare – involved a photograph of an elderly Asian woman holding a young Caucasian baby. When Herman showed this picture to non-healthcare classes, they used words like ‘nanny’, ‘baby’, ‘nephew’ and ‘neighbours’ to describe the photo, however, from her healthcare classes she often received diagnoses like “down syndrome”, “astigmagtism” and “thyroid condition”. The exercise clearly demonstrated how perception bias can have real life-and-death implications. If clinicians and nurses made these observational statements based only on a photo, then it is likely they do the same when walking into the exam room or their ER.

At the end of Herman’s keynote, I found myself wondering if it would be feasible to add her course as a Quality Measure.

Both Ebeling and Herman put an exclamation point on Day 3. Each delivered a keynote that upped the dosage of perspective that started with Day 1 presenter Ceci Connolly.

Together, Connolly, Ebeling and Herman truly changed my perspective on my personal challenges and the challenges facing healthcare.  They all seem smaller now.

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Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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