What have I learned so far... / by Terry Huang

One of the things I have learned and come to terms with is that all public health and social challenges are complex, and such complexity requires different frameworks to address than the simple cause-and-effect model that we have all learned growing up. You see, being able to tease out what causes of obesity -- for example, eating too many calories -- doesn't necessarily tell us what to do about them. To this point, we can probably all relate to the personal failures of trying to count and reduce our caloric intake.

The reality is that to achieve the goal of reducing calorie intake, we would first need the motivation and education to do it, accompanied by social support, tools to help us manage food purchases and intake, and an environment that makes it easy to accomplish this in all the different settings in which we function. And, on top of it all, we will need to exercise to keep up our metabolism and offset the natural decrease in our metabolic rate when we lose weight! How rare is it that all these factors are aligned to help us maximize our chance for success?

This brings me to the point that it is futile to look for simple solutions for public health challenges. It is not about any one thing but how all the different factors line up and interact to shift the outcome one way or another. There are tools -- qualitative and quantitative -- that help us manage this complexity. However, I find that the key to embracing complexity is a shift in mindset, and this takes practice. The shift involves not playing the blame game (i.e., looking for the single culprit), not being afraid of the unknown, being okay with the surprising and unanticipated, and recognizing that there are many others outside our comfort sphere who can bring different expertise and tools to help us figure things out. This is why I have become such a firm believer in working to find solutions to obesity or other challenging problems in society through cross-sectoral collaborations and innovation -- at the nexus of science (of all forms), business and design and creativity.