In the early 1990s, call centers were popping up around the United States like mushrooms on a dewy morning. Companies invested millions of dollars to improve customer service via well-trained, professional operators in automated centers. Several prognosticators suggested that the segment was growing so quickly that every man, woman, and child in the United States would be working in a call center by, oh say, 2010.
Of course, it didn’t happen. The Internet arrived and millions of customers chose to serve themselves. Telecommunication costs plummeted and many companies moved their call centers offshore. Call centers are still important but not nearly as pervasive in the United States as they were projected to be.
Now we’re faced with similar projections for health care costs. If current trends continue, prognosticators say, health care will consume an ever increasing portion of the American budget until everything simply falls apart. Given our experience with other “obvious trends”, I think it behooves us to ask the opposite question, what if health care costs go down?
Why would health care costs go down? Simply put — we may just cure a few diseases.
Why am I optimistic about potential cures? Because we’re making progress on many different fronts. For instance, what if obesity isn’t a social/cultural issue but a bacteriological issue? That’s the upshot of a recent article published in The ISME Journal. To quote: “Gram-negative opportunistic pathogens in the gut may be pivotal in obesity…” (For the original article, click here. For a summary in layman’s terms, click here). In other words, having the wrong bacteria in your gut could make you fat. Neutralizing those bacteria could slim down the whole country and reduce our health care costs dramatically.
And what about cancer? Apparently, we’re learning how to “persuade” cancer cells to kill themselves. I’ve spotted several articles on this — click here, here, here, here, and here for samples. Researchers hope that training cancer cells to commit suicide could cure many cancers in one fell swoop rather than trying to knock them off one at a time.
Of course, I’m not a medical doctor and it’s exceedingly hard to predict whether or when these findings might be transformed into real solutions. But I am old enough to know that “obvious predictions” often turn out to be dead wrong. In the late 1980s, experts predicted that our crime rate would spike to new highs in the 1990s. Instead, it did exactly the opposite. Similarly, we expected Japan to dominate the world economy. That didn’t happen either. We expected call centers to dominate the labor market. Instead, demand shifted to the Internet.
In the case of health care, it’s hard to make specific predictions. But a good strategist will always ask the “opposite” question. If the whole world is predicting that X will grow in significance, the strategist will always ask, “what if the reverse is true?” You may not be able to predict the future but you can certainly prepare for it.
Did you know that we’ve had 13 full moons in 2012? We had a blue moon in August. We’ll have another blue moon in about three years. What does that have to do with anything? Well, not much except that it’s the end of the year and I’m feeling a bit moony. Hope you have a good year in 2013. Here are some interesting things to read along the way.
Do bacteria cause obesity? We used to think that stress caused ulcers. Then we learned that it’s really a virus. Today, we believe that obesity is caused by overeating and lack of control. It’s a cultural issue or a psychological issue. But what if it’s just a bacteria? That’s the upshot of new research reported here. Maybe people get fat because of what’s in their gut rather than what’s in their brain.
It takes twenty years to build a reputation and twenty minutes to wreck it. Daniel Diermier probably knows more about reputation as a corproate asset than all the rest of us put together. Here’s what he says are the top ten reputational disasters of 2012. Be glad you’re not on the list.
So, your reputation suffers a disaster. What can you do about it? Well, the first thing is to learn how to apologize gracefully and completely. Here are some good and not-so-good ways to apologize to your customers. Though it doesn’t get much practice, Apple seems to lead the way in this category as well.
I’m about to teach a class on critical thinking so I was excited to find that Stephen Colbert has already recorded an excellent primer on critical thinking in Texas. You can find it here.
And for critical thinking about the future, here are five technologies to watch in 2013.
Enough about disasters and apologies. Here’s some good news. The global infant mortality rate has dropped from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 57 deaths per 1,000 in 2010. That’s a decline of slightly more than 35%. It’s also an indication that numerous health care innovations are creating an important impact. Read about it here.
Finally, just in case you’re worried about staying in shape for the new year, here’s the stiletto workout. Feel the burn!