Why Would You Ever Take Your Temperature?

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” 

– Ken Olsen, Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

Right. Let alone in one’s pocket or purse or attached to an extremity.

It’s tricky stuff, this business of prognostication. Trickier still is the assessment of what’s actually worth investing in, especially in the face of statements like this. Just imagine if investments in personal computing had ceased based on Ken Olsen’s view of the future.

I was reminded of Olsen’s assessment this week while reading about the work coming out of Boston Children’s Hospital, where they are investing time and money studying…fevers.

At first glance, it might seem trivial to challenge whether a degree or half degree could matter much in a person’s life. “Why should I care?” “What could such a small difference communicate to me?” “What difference could that make?”

It’s entirely possible that the answers to those questions are flatly: You shouldn’t. Nothing. Zero. But it’s also possible that the work being done by these Boston researchers could fundamentally reframe an important dimension of how we diagnose and determine whether and what kind of treatment to dispense to people. And the contrast between these scenarios is what makes deciding to pursue and fund such a project difficult.

In our work, we come across sizeable social challenges and we have opportunities to meet the people considering early investments to address them. And with increasing global, societal, and systemic challenges being presented to funders on a nearly daily basis, it can be hard for any organization, even one with a great idea, to stand out as the one doing the most important work in the best way.

So, inspired a bit by the work at Boston Children’s Hospital, here are a few tips to keep in mind when your organization is trying to stand out and attract investments to drive a mission forward.

  • Frame the problem by attacking the causes: Most anyone can understand a problem when they see one. But when you’re talking with someone who doesn’t operate as deeply in your space as you do, there’s great benefit to building an argument around how your work can uncover and address the root causes of the problem, so that the optimal solutions can be built, tested, and unleashed. Boston Children’s is very upfront in their communication about their program, that everyone knows fevers can signal a problem, but to this day doctors still know very little about the causes of specific fevers.
  • Communicate the possible upside/downside: Universal healthcare has arrived in the United States—along with doctor shortages, demographic shifts that will strain care delivery models, the growth of drug resistant illnesses, and rising costs that appear unsustainable. For Boston Children’s the downside is that, amid all of these priorities, their study does nothing more than simply validate over 150 years of existing medical knowledge. The upside, however, is a potential reshaping of our everyday approach to who truly needs and can benefit from care, given the most likely cause of the fever, and what kind of treatment is recommended based in part on their temperature. Laying out both the upside and downside is a way to help interested parties understand the relative value of their potential investment.
  • Ask for help: In Boston Children’s work, they have developed an app to crowdsource the data for their study. Not only is that helpful in gathering their necessary sample size for a study, it becomes a very public example to prospective funders that it’s not just “us” who find the issue serious, but potentially thousands or tens of thousands of participants well beyond what’s needed for statistical significance. So consider the use of surveys and data that can help demonstrate the volume of support for an issue and its possible outcomes and solutions even before your work begins.

In making any sort of ask for support, it’s important to always remember that context is critical. Being able to show how your approach to an issue fits into the larger picture, and what potential long-term impact your work can have on society is critical. It’s key to showing that your idea is not only worthy of investment, but that it is the best investment.

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