OK, ready for today’s English lesson? Our concept for today is “portmanteau.” For you language nerds, a portmanteau is the combining of the sounds and meanings of two words into one new word. Originally coined, they think (whomever “they” are) by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, you are definitely familiar with the concept if you have ever seen a spork (spoon/fork) or gone to brunch (late breakfast/early lunch/excuse to drink early).
My particular favorite portmanteau is Turducken, which is turkey stuffed with a duck that is stuffed with a chicken and eaten by lord knows who at Thanksgiving. More importantly this was the affectionate name I called my sister when she was pregnant with a kid to be born on that very holiday. I loved calling her and saying, “Hey Turducken, ready to pop that little chicken out yet?”
Anyway, the portmanteau of this particular blog (itself a portmanteau of web and log) is “coopetition,” a blending of the words competition and cooperation and most commonly used in the context of business, though I suppose it could also apply to those seeking to advance on Survivor by using each other to, well, survive.
This week I had the very gratifying opportunity to join many healthcare colleagues from many countries around the world at the HealthXL Global Gathering, which was held in Munich. For those of you who think I went only because the meeting coincided with Oktoberfest, you’re wrong. I’d have gone anyway. This just made it even more awesome and afforded me the opportunity to drink beer and eat pretzels while wearing a dirndl dress, rendering me some worrisome facsimile of the St. Pauli girl long past her best beer-serving days.
In any event, the HealthXL gathering was really a two-day session. The morning of the first day was dedicated to a brainstorming session at Frog Design with a focus on how the many international companies present, some who compete, others who rarely even find themselves in the same place at the same time, could find points of common interest and ways of cooperating to achieve common goals. Agreeing on the goals was the very first endeavor, and I was particularly interested by what each of these very senior executives talked about as their objective for engaging in digital health initiatives: partnership, consumer engagement, data acquisition…not a single one said “revenue” or even “growth.” That struck me as somewhat odd and, being the investor in the room and thus rather singularly-focused on ROI, I couldn’t help but point that out. What’s the point of all that cooperating if it doesn’t result in a market that is bigger, better, more lucrative for all?
Perhaps it was the context, but I was struck by how the representatives from such organizations as IBM, Linde, Roche, J&J, Abbott, Merck, Cleveland Clinic, Highmark/Allegheny pushed back on that concept. They were genuinely focused, it seemed, on how to cooperate in their mutual best interests rather than how to outsmart and outsell the other guy for short-term financial gain or quarterly earnings reporting. There was a clear sentiment that co-developing products and sharing customers is likely the only way to go these days, even if it takes longer for a return on the shared investment. I don’t think this message would likely have passed muster even 10 years ago. It appears that digital health makes for very different bedfellows than do the standalone healthcare sectors of the past. In fact it makes for bedfellows, not just single bunks.
HealthXL’s true purpose is to advance the value of digital health through these cross-company, cross culture engagements, bringing unlikely collaborators together Match.com style when they otherwise may not have found their way to each other. If you are a healthcare executive who likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, HealthXL’s goal is to help you find the company partner that completes you (sorry for the mishmash of pop culture references, but I can’t help myself).
One of the more intriguing conversations we all had was about how the viciously competitive banking industry formed VISA as a shared platform to ensure the benefit of a broad array of otherwise competititive credit card purveyors—a poignant example of business coopetition. It was interesting to contemplate how the healthcare industry could benefit from a similar endeavor, finding a truly shared platform for open data exchange–owned by none, funded by all, and operated by a truly independent body–that could make the entire marketplace bigger and better for customers in all their forms, just as the financial industry once did.
I was reflecting on this desire to break down boundaries and work towards mutual benefit and data liquidity as I sat at our afternoon Oktoberfest table with 20+ representatives of different healthcare companies. Each person may live in different countries and speak different native languages but we were all drinking and toasting and dancing together there in the Marstall beer tent with four thousand of our closest friends.
There is nothing to make you realize how small the world really is like being in Munich with your German colleagues, surrounded by Americans, Irish, French, Swiss, Israelis, etc. while everyone is singing Guantanamera. Surreal perhaps, but singing it with one voice like it was everyone’s native song and drinking like they were on a shared mission to ensure that all of the earth’s beer was consumed that afternoon (fyi: each stein of beer is one liter; for you metrics-phobes that’s about a quarter of a gallon; I saw quite a few of my compadres drink enough of those to fill the gas tank of my German car). Beer drinking as coopetition gives a whole new meaning to the concept of data liquidity. It was pretty great, especially because the openness and collegiality of the beer hall was really no different than the feeling one had in the HealthXL board meeting earlier that day, but without the sloshing.
Wouldn’t it be grand if we could find our way to a neutral industry-wide data liquidity consortium in healthcare that made it truly possible to expand value for all? There are some efforts underway, but they are far from all inclusive at the moment. We need something that includes all the EMRs, all the clouds, all the sectors, all the stakeholders (healthIT, medtech, biotech/pharma, genomics, IOT, services, providers, payers, pharmacy, patients), the whole kit and caboodle. That concept just hasn’t found the light of day yet. Rather we are getting a veritable confetti of organizations and a plethora of government regulations that vary just enough to confound the concept of true coopetition. And that’s just in the United States. Bring in the rest of the world and it gets even more complex. And all the while, some healthcare companies are just not playing ball and that’s not helping.
Being in Munich it was hard not to see a metaphor in the story of the refugees streaming into Germany and elsewhere. I had booked a hotel right across from Munich’s main train station and thus expected to see teeming masses of refugees on their way from Syria, Iraq, etc. Instead all I saw were teeming masses of drunken, Oktoberfesters wrapped in beer-soaked lederhosen. The refugees were apparently elsewhere, streaming like data across numerous borders as many different countries in the world absorb them (and many refusing that border crossing liquidity). Yet despite their differences and own national issues, many countries are cooperating and partnering to help solve an international crisis in the name of people who need help. And some countries aren’t and that isn’t helping.
Imagine the added level of complexity this mass movement of people adds to the healthcare systems of countries around the world and how much potential opportunity it creates for healthcare companies who could serve this new market and grow accordingly. All they need to do to succeed is to cooperate across borders, across cultures, across data sets, across stakeholder’s solo motivations to improve the outcome for all. Let’s hope we see more of this coopetition in all the areas that matter.
In the US of A, at least, aren’t antitrust laws an obstacle to this sort of thing? And practically speaking, who believes a bunch of money-grubbing business people can identify what constitutes the grester good for you and me?
Lisa Suennen says
It’s not conspiring in this case, Bill. It’s more partner/joint venturing. But good question. Unfortunately people aren’t that good at identifying the greater good for themselves either so it’s a standoff! We could let the money-grubbing lawyers decide….Lisa