What if we had a health care system instead of a ‘sick care system?’

An imaginary prize inspires this and other questions

Rebecca OnieIn an interesting recent article in the New York Times headlined “Imaginary Prizes Take Aim at Real Problems,” the reporter J. Peder Zane approached a number of MacArthur Foundation fellowship winners—i.e., people who are doing groundbreaking work on various important issues—and asked them the following beautiful question:

If you had a $20 million prize to offer people as incentive to take on a major challenge, what would that challenge be?

I love the idea of using incentives to inspire people to tackle big challenges (the X Prize Foundation, among others, has been doing this for years). And I even like the idea of using an “imaginary prize”—as this article did—just to get people thinking and talking about these issues. In the article, each of the MacArthur fellows came up with a great challenge. Among them: How might we… use crowd-sourcing to help the hearing-impaired? Remove deadly sediments from waterways? Build better bridges?

But the idea that most resonated with me was from Rebecca Onie, a 2009 MacArthur Fellow who runs Health Leads, an organization that helps needy people to access health care services. Onie’s $20 million challenge: “Design a true health care system.” As she points out in the Times article, what we currently have is a “sick care system” that devotes almost all of its resources to treating patients after they become ill. What we desperately need, Onie notes, is a new system that is focused more on prevention and keeping people out of hospitals.

How might we begin to create such a system? It’s one of the big questions I plan to address in the book (possibly with input from Onie, as well as a number of other creative thinkers and master questioners currently working in the health care field). And in the meantime, I’d love to hear any ideas (or beautiful questions, of course) that readers may have on this subject.

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of eight books, including THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead, the bestseller A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, and the internationally acclaimed GLIMMER, named one of Businessweek’s Best Innovation and Design Books of the Year. His writing appears regularly in Psychology Today, Fast CompanyHarvard Business Review, and The New York Times. He lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts.

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