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Fortune Brainstorm Health 2016
On-stage demo of Watson for oncology at Fortune's Brainstorm Health conference. Stuart Isett—Fortune Brainstorm Health

We’re Looking for Healthcare Leaders!

Jan 23, 2017

This essay appears in today's edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

I recently gave a talk on the importance of betting on people rather than on projects. The presentation focused on the NIH’s “R01” system, the process by which federal money is awarded for specific, circumscribed research proposals. The system, venerable though it may be, is extraordinarily, mind-bogglingly inefficient. Scientists spend half or more of their time just applying for these and other lab-sustaining grants, only to fail roughly nine times out of ten. They then have to begin the cycle all over again or they’re out of a job.

One of these days, I’ll devote another essay to that sticky problem—and why it often fails to provide the best science, too—but for now, I’d like to focus on the people part. It seems that everywhere I turn these days people are talking or writing about the remarkableness of, well, people.

Take the very human notion of judgment. The ever-inspiring Dov Seidman, the CEO and chief philosopher of LRN, shared this important couplet of wisdom with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman earlier this month, and more recently with me: “Machines can be programmed to do the next thing right. But only humans can do the next right thing.” (He’s right.)

Or take the unique wisdom and perspective that comes from human experience—from having seen the world through one’s own eyes. My Fortune colleague Ellen McGirt wrote two beautiful features for the magazine this month on the topic—one that offers a thoroughly surprising look at PwC’s U.S. chairman, Tim Ryan, and the other that dives into Google’s efforts to examine its own blind spot on diversity.

Or take the issue of leadership. Yes, that too is a very human concept—and one we cogitate on and ruminate over and reflect upon endlessly at Fortune. Why? ’Cause it’s important. Really important.

I’ve been thinking a ton about leadership these days, and about what it means. Part of that is due to the fact that we’re beginning to assemble Fortune’s annual list of the 50 World’s Greatest Leaders. (Here’s how we put it together, along with our 2016, 2015, and 2014 editions, for those who are curious.)

But it’s also because physician-scribe David Agus, my good friend and co-chair of Fortune Brainstorm Health, suggested we examine true leadership in the area of healthcare—and celebrate it not only in our conference in May but in the pages of Fortune as well. So I’m reaching out to you, dear readers, to invite you to offer your suggestions on who the best leaders in healthcare are today.

What makes a person a leader, importantly, isn’t the official role she or he has at a company or organization. (So please don’t send me a list of CEOs—or only of CEOs.) Real leadership, rather, is the act of moving and motivating others—even in the face of significant barriers, resistance, or the paralyzing force of inertia. True leaders bring other individuals into a common mission and then they work together to overcome a common challenge. Natural leaders run step-in- step with change, not frantically away from it.

So please take a moment to email me with your nominations, leads, and other suggestions. And I’ll give you a sneak peak in our Brainstorm Health newsletter at who makes our final list.

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