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Start with ambitions, not problems
If you aim low, you go low
End of July, and the majority of my human family is backpacking in the mountain west, leaving me here in Madison with the dogs and our eldest son, with whom I’ve been watching The Wire and recording some music when he gets home from work. Watch out, Weezer, we’re coming for you! 🥁
As you know, this summer I’ve been trying to write more and explore a couple of projects I’ve long wanted to build. Recently, I've also started working with a handful of founders / exec teams to help them sharpen and accelerate their commercial partnerships and acquisition strategy. If that’s of interest, please get in touch.
Before we get into my latest post, two things to share that I’ve recently been enjoying:
First, the newly released, previously undiscovered record of John Coltrane with a fiery Eric Dolphy live at the Village Gate in 1961. Ferocious music. Elvin Jones is on drums, and too loud in the mix, but that is precisely amazing 🔥
And, in the spirit of what I wish I knew earlier in my life, this dauntingly long yet thoroughly excellent Paul Graham article, How to Do Great Work, is just everything. Hopefully my kids find this link one day in my things 🙂
As always, thanks for reading. Please send me a message and tell me how you’re doing and what you’re working on, and let me know how I can make this newsletter more helpful for you.
If you aim low, you go low
Digital health companies too often start from problems rather than ambitions. Successful teams allow themselves to do things the other way around: They focus less on problems, and more on solutions.
It’s easy to get bogged down by problems. Most of us are trained to follow the logical, analytical path from defining a problem, to diagnosing it, and only then to making a recommendation. We hesitate to formulate solutions from the beginning. 🤔
You have to overcome that orientation and dare to think in terms of your ambition. For your energy is better spent gaining a fuller understanding of potential solutions and interventions. You’ll learn more, faster, by analyzing (and discarding) solutions rather than dissecting problems.
We started Propeller to create real-time public health surveillance of asthma. We had a vision for a distributed system that would teach us new things about the disease in communities and help bring it under control. We targeted high rates of avoidable emergency room visits and hospitalization. And we aimed to design something that didn’t add to the work of illness.
We hypothesized a solution that sounded reasonable but required a host of challenging interventions. It meant connecting medicines to the network, building software to support patient-physician teams, and figuring out how to fund everything through novel commercial deals.
Most important, we avoided becoming an expert in the wrong thing. Had we started with the problem we likely would have spent our energy developing better asthma control questionnaires.
If you’re like us, you won’t get it all right. But you will get moving! ⛵ From there, it becomes easier to make adjustments to the solution and refine and optimize your interventions. Your goal is to not compromise the ambition.
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