Some might think that those of us who work in healthcare lack the creative instinct, that our analytical minds and the rules restricting marketing and communications in the industry squeeze out any room for real originality and inspiration. I disagree completely.
When I was a kid my favorite topic in school was biology. I was intensely curious to understand how our bodies worked and ultimately how this amazing thing called life was possible. Seeing my interest, a family friend gave me a book of Michelangelo’s anatomical drawings. (More than 500 years ago, da Vinci, Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists created some of the most detailed and accurate drawings of the human body – inside and out – that have ever been produced.) And my fascination with both the intricacy and the beauty of those drawings led me to the Veterans Administration hospital autopsy lab in my hometown of Palo Alto, California. I was just 16, but all of a sudden I was spending my afternoons in surgical scrubs exploring a world that had, until then, been a million miles away and yet quite literally right under my skin.
Working alongside the staff pathologists and the many research scientists and medical students who visited the lab during those countless teenage afternoons, I came to see scientists as the ultimate explorers. While things we cannot see in the physical world surround us all every day, these exceptional people are the ones who eagerly have taken on the job of pulling back that veil and exposing them to the light. I also learned to love their incredible optimism; scientists believe there is an answer to every question that can be posed – you just have to be curious, persistent and, yes, creative enough to find it.
While a world away from the autopsy lab and working in healthcare communications for two decades now, I’ve been privileged to continue to work along side some of the most passionate and dedicated people in the industry who, like so many in science, are incredibly clever and creative. And times require that we must be. Intractable challenges, like those we face in healthcare around the globe, compel us all to ask the big questions and take the big risks to find innovative ways to tackle complex problems. That goes for the scientists working to unravel the secrets of biology straight through to the communications experts designing campaigns with the potential to deeply engage and shift entrenched human behaviors.
This year, Cannes organizers are hosting the first ever Lions Health festival – two days dedicated to exploring the most creative work in healthcare communications and marketing. It’s rumored that the festival was set up because healthcare work just can’t win big at the main Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, that there are too many regulations keeping us from doing the truly creative work that can go head-to-head with campaigns by far “cooler” brands and companies.
I don’t see it that way at all. For me, Lions Health was created to provide us with the kind of global platform this industry needs to educate, debate and inspire one another to tackle anew the serious health challenges that impact the lives of so many. Yes, we face practical, regulatory barriers, but the drive to infuse healthcare with fresh ideas, new approaches and powerful creativity is real and pressing, and hopefully Cannes can mark the beginning of new energy for an industry critically important to us all.
Louie Schwartzberg, the filmmaker behind National Geographic’s spectacular film, “Mysteries of the Unseen World,” recently posed the question: “What is the intersection between technology, art and science?” The answer, he said, is curiosity and wonder. I love that. I’m curious to see the variety of innovative and inspired ways the best in our profession are employing to solve important health problems. I also can’t wait to feel just a little bit of wonder over the coming days in Cannes, a little like being back in the autopsy lab again.