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Five Health Ideas Worth Exploring

My “Slow Hunches” from TED

Every year, pioneers gather together on the West Coast of North America to present ideas that have the potential to change the world.

I have attended the TED Conference a few times over the past few years, on the hunt for cutting edge ideas that could accelerate our progress toward a Culture of Health, a vision where people from all walks of life have the opportunity to be healthy and fulfilled.

Some TED talks help me envision the future of health by presenting emerging technologies and trends that will affect how we live, learn, work and play in five and 10 years. Other talks present big ideas that are being applied outside of health, in architecture, art, sports and business, and in those cases, I spend my time between sessions thinking and talking with others about how those ideas might be used to advance health. Sometimes, I come away from the conference with ideas to fund. Other times, I leave with a brain full of “slow hunches” — ideas that will emerge over time.

My Five “Slow Hunches”

Here are the slow hunches I left TED with this year. I hope to discuss these ideas and sparks with you!

  1. Ashton Applewhite’s talk about ageism gave me a healthier attitude about my own aging process. The research result she shared — that those who are reminded that they are old and getting older have poorer health outcomes — inspired me to think about applying lessons we’ve learned from social psychology to create mindset-inspired interventions that improve health for all Americans.
  2. Grace Kim’s examples of shared living in urban settings as a way to promote community and reduce social isolation inspired me to think about hosting potluck dinners this summer on my rooftop so I can learn more about the families who live around me. It led me to wonder how these models might manifest in rural areas where people don’t share a common roof or courtyard.
  3. Philosophical discussions about truth — from how we come to believe what we read (Michael Patrick Lynch) to how we perceive what we see (Anil Seth) — made me reflect on RWJF’s past work exploring the placebo effect and conspiracy theories, and made me curious about how perceptions of truth and trust affect patient engagement in treatment plans, diet and exercise patterns.
  4. As Atul Gawande urged health care providers to get better by getting coaching, I wondered how we might ensure that those with less money can take advantage of this tailwind. Maybe there’s a model, perhaps manifested through a time banking mechanism, that would result in better performance of all humans?
  5. Rutger Bregman, who was motivated by the work of Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in their book Scarcity, talked about a system of paying people once they lose their jobs to robots and AI. I’ve been following the evaluations of the Universal Basic Income being tried across the globe. It’s a compelling idea, but I wonder about the possible unintended consequences for people who really want to work for a living.

In addition to these ideas, I was moved by presentations about how to improve the health of refugees, kids and adults who are toxically stressed — health challenges that are crying out for pioneering efforts. I was alarmed by presentations about the dark side of AI and the distracting nature of cell phones. I was wowed by flying machines and flying humans. I was inspired by art, poetry, music, dance and a glow in the dark bike path. And I was totally blown away by the creative genius of OKGO.

A Simple Fix?

One of the TED talks last week left me confused. Danny Hillis presented what at first appeared to be a simple, convincing antidote to climate change: By cheaply shooting chalk into the environment, he reasonably argued, we could improve the ozone.

He alluded to the fact that this idea is controversial…if people see an easy fix, it might make them stop trying to decrease their carbon footprint, for example. When I talked to my colleague Karabi Acharya about this afterwards, she helped me see this idea through a systems thinking lens: we have NO way of knowing what this simple alteration to our environment would really do to our earth and civilization.

What do you think about that? We want to encourage innovative solutions. We want people to think outside the box…to consider the chalk idea. To take risks and try new things. But do we expect the same pioneering minds who come up with innovative ideas to also consider the system effects of their innovation? Should we be regulating high-risk high-reward innovation when, as Danny pointed out, no one asked permission to burn fossil fuels to cause the problems we have today? What are the implications of these questions for Artificial Intelligence and Genomics?

What Did I Miss?

Do you have a favorite TED talk that contains an idea that may help us build a Culture of Health? Tell me what I should watch next!! Leave a comment or a link to a TED talk below or reach out to me on Twitter: @LoriMelichar.

Have your OWN idea for how we could explore one of these ideas together to help build a Culture of Health? Submit a Pioneering Ideas brief proposal.

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