Unpacking Chaos and Clarity at TEDMED 2018


Mayo Clinic service designer Lauren Seymour


Prior to the holidays, Mayo Clinic Innovation & Design service designer Lauren Seymour seized the opportunity to attend TEDMED 2018, a three-day conference dedicated to advancing science, global public health, and medical innovation in Palm Springs, Calif.


Below, Lauren shares what prompted her to pursue a scholarship and attend the conference, what she learned from immunotherapy pioneer Carl June, and some of the key takeaways she brought back to Rochester from her experience.


Q: What prompted your interest in attending TEDMED 2018?

A: Being relatively new to the health care industry, I’ve been seeking opportunities to learn more about health and medicine. But I wanted to attend a conference that would also provide me with a spark creatively and drive more innovative thinking within the context of my work.


TEDMED felt like the best combination of inspiration, medicine, and health care that would inspire me to think differently.


Q: What does the TEDMED 2018 theme of Chaos + Clarity mean to you?

A: That theme represents multiple layers for me. I believe that the intersection of chaos and clarity is where a lot of creativity happens. You can’t have one without the other, and you must learn to be comfortable with both, sometimes simultaneously, in order to understand complex problems and envision a better future.


I also think the theme applies to the current state of health care as well. You hear a great deal about how the current system is broken, and that it’s a mess. But while most of us are focusing on that chaos, there’s also great opportunity to define clarity and address key issues that can begin to shift the current story. We just need to approach these problems with a different perspective.


When I arrived at the conference and heard some of the personal stories that speakers shared, that really reinforced things for me. Sometimes we need to change our thinking and turn things upside down in order to leverage the chaos to achieve clarity, and ultimately to create positive change through this intersection.


Q: How was the conference structured?

A: The conference was structured through a combination of talks and pitches, but something that really drew me to TEDMED was a program called “The Hive.” The Hive features startups along different intersections of health and medicine that are exploring what the future of health care might look like. There was a lot to explore through new technology, and the physical space really encouraged us to engage and apply new ideas. I also greatly enjoyed the familiar TED-style talks and the inspiring stories shared by each of the speakers. The talks were grouped in sessions, each highlighting a new facet at the intersection of chaos and clarity. One of my favorite sessions was titled “Making Waves” in which nine changemakers shared what it takes to make a difference and create a swell of momentum to propel positive and lasting change, ensuring a healthier, safer world for all.


Q: On the event website, a line read that “a healthy society is everyone’s business.” Why is it so important for different sectors of society to collaborate in support of improving health care?

A: Something that separated this conference from others that I’ve attended was in the ability to draw from so many diverse perspectives. Not only did people bring different ideas, they were also open to considering those perspectives instead of churning through the same solutions.


Most of the attendees were there because they see themselves as change makers, and because they are invested in taking action to make things better. We all need to share our stories and participate in the changes that need to be made, no matter our job title or industry. The speaker’s stories emphasized for me how narrowly we define the experience of health today. Though we may disagree on what care for health looks like, I was reminded that ultimately health is a human experience that can bring us together more than it divides us. At TEDMED, it felt like we were thinking bigger, and sharing something bigger.


Q: Did a particular presenter stand out for you?

A: Because of the work I’ve participated in over the last year to help design the experience of Mayo Clinic’s CAR-T cell Therapy Program, the talk of Dr. Carl June, a pioneer of immunotherapy and CAR-T, had an incredible impact on me. In his talk, Dr. June shared his 30-year journey as a physician and how he arrived at his discoveries through unexpected connections. I’ve personally been able to see the direct impact of his journey and discoveries in patient’s lives.


Going back to the “chaos & clarity” theme, he described how his career and research have led to many forks in the road in which he had the choice to move forward in curiosity not knowing where it would lead. While he was unsure of the elements of his journey, he believed that the work and the sacrifices he made along the way would ultimately help people. This message resonated with me as a designer, and was a reminder that you have to give a lot of yourself in the process of creating something that matters.


Q: What are you most excited to bring back from the conference to your colleagues?

A: Ideally, I’d like to recreate some of the talks and themes from the conference as part of a monthly series. It would be great to share some of the presentations and discuss over a lunch and learn or another group session.


More broadly, I believe that the idea of chaos and clarity identifies well with Innovation & Design’s current state, integrating with the Kern Center. What will our integration mean to our creative process? How can we apply the themes of chaos and clarity to our current state of transition? I think considering these two ideas not as opposites, but as complementary ideas can allow us to broaden our perspective of Innovation and Design’s role in the transformation of health and health care, and make the content of our work even more applicable.