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Celebrate and Embrace Failure!

Failed to attend Humans of HealthTech 2019? We’ll help you overcome that failure and remind you learn from failure and make sure to sign up early for the next One HealthTech event in your area! by Jenny Zhou

On Tuesday 5 March, London One HealthTech held the second annual Humans of HealthTech (HoHT) event. This year, HoHT highlighted the role of failure, celebrating failure as part of the journey to success. The evening also made a nod to International Women’s Day (on 8 March) by highlighting the diverse roles women occupy in healthtech, in both failures and successes. Women in industry and academia, practicing clinicians and hands-on founders, spoke about why we should not fear failure but rather embrace failure.

In the spirit of the theme, I hope to highlight the event without fear of failure while sprinkling in some of the tips the speakers provided for embracing failure. Here’s my slightly late recap -- an example of a fail already.

Though the rainy evening made it more difficult for some to find the amazing venue at DeepMind, a late start meant more time to network and enjoy some drinks and nibbles. Tip #1: Remember sometimes a setback can have a silver-lining.

The evening started with a warm welcome from Mustafa Suleyman, Co-founder and Head of Applied AI at DeepMind, who reminded us that failure is part of being human. Tip #2: Sometimes, it’s not about the fact that we have failed, but rather how we handle that failure.

Then Dr Rebecca Pope, Lead Data Scientist & Head of Data Science & Engineering, KPMG UK, and out host for the evening, started the festivities with a few jokes and a reminder that Humans of HealthTech is not a “sit back and check out” sort of event but rather a “dive in and engage” event -- even the break is active, more on this later.

Part 1

The first half of the evening focused on previous failures and the important lessons they’ve imparted. In the first talk, Denise Silber, founder of Basil Strategies and Doctors 2.0, highlighted some of the “fails” of digital healthtech past, including the unintended burnout of clinicians in the implementation of electronic medical records and misaligned incentives of fundraising that have lead to fraud like Theranos. This definitely got everyone thinking about different types of failures, whether we can catch them in progress, and how some seeming failures can be salvaged and turned around into successes. Some failures are clearly design failures to Cosima Gretton, Clinical Product Manager at Mindstrong and a Teaching Fellow at University College London. There is often a failure at the human machine interface, which introduces “interface facilitated human error” such as failure to respond to poorly designed error messages. Thus, Cosima emphasised the need to use appropriate design techniques and monitoring to learn more about potential points of failure. Tip 3: Feedback is highly valuable. We should aim to recognise and understand failures, so that we may prevent additional failures in the future.

When we ask for feedback and data, we should remember to appreciate all of the information we receive. Mona Nasser, Associate Professor in Evidence-based Dentistry, really drove home this point by comparing and contrasting different futures where research might be tightly controlled by a few rich titans versus more democratically influenced and systematically synthesised. Part of the more idealised future would be the recognition that insignificant and negative results contribute to the big picture.  

A fun highlight of HoHT is the active break. This year, the break challenged two teams to tell stories of failures that could be turned into successes. One team turned a story of a failed start-up idea into a new pivoted idea. The second team turned a story of developing macular degeneration into a budding relationship with healthtech community.

Part 2

The second part of the evening focused on learning to embrace failure. Isabelle Bärgh, a user experience designer at DeepMind, gave us a glimpse into how recognising failure has actually been a critical part of making things better. However, it is critical to learn from failures as a team (tip #4).

Then Mary Akangbe, President/Founder of Zenith Global Health, spoke about her experience as a female founder and the challenges of knowing when to pivot. She reminded the audience that “we can’t let the fear of striking out stop us from playing” (tip #5). She also got the audience up and celebrating the “little wins”.

Dr. Lorin Gresser, CEO and co-founder of Dem Dx, continued the discussion on pivoting. She told the story of her personal career pivots from molecular biology to finance to paediatrics to medical education technology. Along this journey, she had to face failures with appropriate humour, such as her misunderstanding of the conventions of a typical poster session. It was this humour and humility that has helped her persevere as she started and grew Dem Dx.

Finally, the last talk of the evening was delivered by Zainab Hussain, clinical informatics pharmacist. She focused on how to be resilient once you have learned to embrace 

failure. She suggested that you: 1) acknowledge how you feel, 2) stay flexible, 3) learn lessons, 4) take action, and 5) move on. Her take-home message, which was perhaps one of the most important of the evening, was “It is your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop” (Tip #6).


The evening ended with more Q&A which really emphasised that accepting and embracing failure is a must on the path to success. However, there were many questions with uncertain answers, such as “How can we get systematic change -- will it be top-down or bottom-up?” and “How will new technologies change ‘failure’?” These questions and many more were interesting seeds for conversation during networking.

I remember the evening as a chance to consider past errors and failures, and also a chance to examine opportunities that turned into success. Having the time to reflect was refreshing, and I hope you have the time to learn from past failures and to celebrate your successes. Perhaps you can share some of your journey with the One HealthTech community at the next meetup.


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