I was reminded last week what an amazing country the United States is, how creative the American people are and how many exciting things are happening outside Washington.
The reason is this: Despite the negativism of our press and the unproductive gridlock of our politics, Americans still find ways to innovate, create and succeed.
Let me share with you a few examples from my recent experiences.
What Can the Virtual World Tell Us About Real Change in the Real World?
I am more than a little bit of a technology enthusiast, so my first moment of great excitement came in a meeting with IBM at the Center for Health Transformation.
IBM is developing amazing new capabilities in what they call the 3D Internet — a kind of parallel universe on the World Wide Web in which people can interact. Two early pioneering examples of this 3D Internet are Second Life and Webkinz.
I first encountered Webkinz when our grandchildren visited. To use Webkinz, obliging parents or grandparents purchase a special stuffed animal for a child that has a secret code attached. This code allows the child (and Grandpa, if they let him) to enter a website on which the toy is registered and become the child’s virtual pet. The kids are then responsible for keeping the pet fed, cared for and happy.
Even though my grandchildren are only six and almost eight years old, they can navigate this online world like pros.
Solutions Day in the Virtual World
Second Life is a more sophisticated extranet, representing the next wave of collaboration using a 3D Internet virtual world. It is so compelling that people actually spend real money to buy real estate in this online reality. The Swedish government actually has an embassy in Second Life.
Since Solutions Day is the beginning of the next movement, it made sense that American Solutions rent the virtual West front of the U.S. Capitol to hold a workshop in Second Life on September 27 where 13 years to the day earlier the Contract with America was signed on the steps on the real West end of Capitol. This Second Life workshop will occur at 2:00 PM EDT on September 27. If you would like to join me online, click here to check if your computer is compatible and download the needed software. Please join us, we intend to continue where the Contract left off.
(For more information about exciting new developments for Solutions Day, keep reading.)
IBM is also developing what they call interverses and extraverses — virtual, online worlds that already have thousands of people working in them. As a worldwide company with 330,000 employees, IBM can actually bring people together in their virtual laboratories on 3D Internet without having to travel. It is a revolutionary development and has huge implications for learning, shopping and working.
Exploring 21st Century Health Innovations in Michigan
And so it was with these bold and interesting developments in mind that I left on a two day trip to Michigan and Washington State last week. What I found there was just what I found in my meeting with IBM: The innovators and entrepreneurs of our country aren’t waiting for government to invent our future. They’re forging ahead to find better solutions and win the future for all of us.
In Michigan, we began our visit with Kelly Services. This formerly small temporary employment company now provides employment for 750,000 people around the world. It has developed a system of health insurance for its temporary employees, which is a significant contribution to thinking through how we could solve the challenge of the uninsured in America.
Next, we went to the new Henry Ford Health System hospital in West Bloomfield, Mich. When it opens in 2009, this hospital will be a dramatic step forward in new models of health and new approaches to helping people recover from illness or surgical procedures.
To give you just one small example of how different this hospital will be, consider that every room is being built with an area for the family to spend the night and with a refrigerator so the family can keep food in the room. This is the reverse of the classic hospital of a few years ago. Instead of strict visiting hours, family and friends will be welcome 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They recognize family and community as an integral part of the healing process.
A Hospital Health System Designed to Keep People Out of the Hospital
With its emphasis on community involvement, the Henry Ford Health System hospital in West Bloomfield may be the first hospital in the country being designed from the ground up. It shares with the Center for Health Transformation an emphasis on community outreach, wellness, early detection and effective disease management so people do not have to go into the hospital. It is a system designed to help the individual before and after they are a patient.
You know immediately how serious they are about change and innovation when you meet the CEO helping develop this new approach. His name is Gerard van Grinsven. He was a longtime manager for Ritz Carlton and is bringing that famous hotel chain’s standards for customer service and customer focus to the hospital world.
The Henry Ford Health System is displaying world class innovation and is prepared to bring that innovation to better service for seniors through bold new ideas to begin building a 21st Century Medicare system.
Exploring Technological and Health Innovation in Washington State
From Michigan, we flew to Seattle, Wash., where Microsoft demonstrated two breakthrough areas.
First, Microsoft is developing a sixth-generation wireless handheld that is virtually a laptop in your palm. It is a dramatic leap forward from what we are used to — you can even use it to enter virtual worlds like Second Life and IBM’s interverses and extraverses. The potential increase in information flow and convenience from these new devices is very impressive.
Second, Microsoft is entering the health information space with all the energy and professionalism we have come to expect from this extraordinary company. They will soon introduce a much needed consumer-controlled health information platform that will substantially increase the availability and reliability of electronic health information systems for doctors, hospitals and patients.
Keep Your Eye on the Entrepreneurs, Not the Politicians
Finally, we went to Spokane, Wash., and visited the Inland Northwest Health Services. This is simply one of the most effective and innovative regional health information systems in the country.
Starting with the four hospitals in Spokane, they have grown an information system that now serves much of Eastern Washington, a hospital in the Seattle area and now three hospitals in Los Angeles. And they’ll soon move their model into Alaska and Tampa Bay, Fla.
From telemedicine and remote ER services to integrated health records, they continue to develop new and better services using information technology to improve convenience, increase accuracy, reduce errors and decrease costs.
Inland Northwest Health Services is one of the systems I encourage everyone interested in health innovation to visit. Their new ideas and new developments never fail to give me confidence that we can live longer, with better health at lower cost. The reason so many are gloomy and pessimistic about healthcare is because they are looking to politicians rather than hard-working innovative entrepreneurs for their solutions.
Favre, Woods and Paterno: Proof America Will Continue to Invent the Future
I returned home from seeing the future in technology and healthcare in Michigan and Washington to watch Brett Favre become the winningest quarterback in NFL history. (Yes, I grew up when Vince Lombardi was the most amazing coach in America, and I own one share of Green Bay stock with my wife, Callista, and son-in-law, Paul Lubbers, both from Wisconsin. It’s easy for me to celebrate when Favre wins.)
Then I watched Tiger Woods continue to consistently prove that he is the best golfer in history, as he calmly and relentlessly dominated the field at the FedEx Cup final match at East Lake in Atlanta (the original home of Bobby Jones).
Finally, a coach born Dec. 21, 1926, won yet another football game, as Joe Paterno (who mentored me when I was Speaker of the House) continues to prove that aging in America is going to be different in the 21st Century than it was in the Industrial Era.
What Favre, Woods and Paterno have in common is that classic American ability to dream big, work hard, learn everyday, enjoy life and be true to themselves.
They are remarkably different people, but each in his own fashion has found a path to achievement.
As long as the American spirit remains this vibrant, we will continue to overcome the gridlock and frustration of politics and government through the energy liberated by individuals, families and businesses living out the American dream.
Solutions Day in the Real World: September 27 and 29
I mentioned earlier that the September 27 Solutions Day workshops will also occur in the virtual world of Second Life.
But for those of you who would still rather participate in the real world, the Solutions Day events on September 27 and 29 will be broadcast on both DISH Network (channel 219) and DirecTV (channel 577).
Everything will be web cast live on the Internet as well at AmericanSolutions.com. You can test your computer in advance to ensure that it’s ready to participate. Just go to AmericanSolutions.com and click on FAQ.
You can also join me live, in person, in Atlanta at the Cobb Galleria for the opening presentation of Solutions Day on September 27 at 7 pm.
We’ve also announced some of the workshops that will be held September 29. We’ll be talking about immigration, green conservatism, Social Security and many other important issues. More workshops will be announced in the coming days, so check back soon. If you haven’t registered for Solutions Day yet, you can do so here. You won’t want to miss it!
P.S. — Watching the hearings in which Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified last week reminded me of the great lesson in preparedness America received in World War II.
In our novel Pearl Harbor, Bill Forstchen and I try to bring to life just how dangerous it can be to be unprepared and to underestimate your potential enemies. It makes for a sobering contrast with the isolationist, defeat America attitude of MoveOn.org and other leftwing activist organizations.
P.P.S. — A reminder for everyone interested in Solutions Day that my new book with Nancy Desmond, CEO of Center for Health Transformation, Implementing the Art of Transformation: The Workbook, is still available. Get your copy here.