What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

by Ben Perreira

At the end of the spring semester last year I boarded a flight to Helsinki via Munich with about 55 classmates and professors for three weeks of research. My group of 8 (seven students and an advisor) had set out to study mobile technology in healthcare. We had already met with a dozen field experts stateside and it was time to meet with some experts in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

I learned a ton about mHealth, of course, but the topic turned out to be a trojan horse for two more durable bits of schooling. I learned how to:

Align incentives for multiple stakeholders. We can establish that all people are ultimately self-interested, but figuring out just what action that will cause is a little trickier. In our case, the common denominator was cost, because healthcare is expensive across the board, and because there are so many parties involved (patients, insurers, technology providers, doctors, hospital administrators, government agencies, etc.) nobody really feels responsible for the costs. Creating incentives for multiple parties involved a ton of give and take. A “my way or the highway” approach will leave you hanging out to dry.

Work in a team. Some of the smartest people often forget that the biggest variable we face when trying to get something done is those around us. Just like creating incentives in a large ecosystem like mHealth is critical to making it work, the give and take in keeping a team going is at least as challenging as it is important. About six months into the process our team realized that we had this huge bundle of assets but we were not using them very well. We had to learn to contribute when we could and allow others to lead when that made more sense. Someone has to play right field, but eventually everyone gets to bat.