Who the F*** Wants to Run the Country?!

We find ourselves – both the right, left, and center – perplexed by how incredibly bizarre the year of 2020 has become…and I fear it isn’t over yet…

In our own ways, each of us is trying to find solid ground and a way to positively impact, or even influence, our nation, our people, and of course, voting.

For my part – I’ve toured our government, represented our country overseas, and through my campaign traveled through every single state meeting and learning about our people – but as of yet, I have not run the country and between COVID-19 and the reality that I’m no politician, it doesn’t seem plausible. Or is it?

I have a personal trait that pretty much prohibits me from giving up when I set a goal. Typically, this means I keep working until I reach it but oftentimes it means I step back and look at it from a different angle, reinterpret it, and/or redesign the pathway. My goal to inspire our people is no different. We may not have won the presidency (though one might argue that having a neutral leader might be worth serious consideration today…where is that wink emoji when I need it?)…but we did publish a book we can be proud of, start a podcast, and now I’m adding a new adventure.

Taking the word “run” literally and then taking advantage of the creativity of our people who have developed unexpected opportunities during this pandemic, I am going to attempt to RUN the country…albeit virtually.

As a high risk individual, I am not able to throw caution to the wind and take chances being in public or at work but I have found respite in running early in the morning before anyone is awake. There is freedom in the darkness and running under the stars is peaceful and beautiful. And I am lucky enough to have seen those stars from the lands of every one of our states.

So now I am combining this unexpected yet welcomed experience with my travels and my goal to inspire our people on the road…literally. A new virtual trip around our country that will allow me to “travel” our nation once again and remember all the great places I visited.

Join me as I highlight a state each week and challenge myself to a virtual 10K, Half, or Full (marathon) in honor of all 50 states. I’ll post pictures from my travels and of my runs and of course, my MEDALS!

Here goes my new goal: #RUNtheCOUNTRY

Healthcare: Money, Politics….then Science

COVID-19 has helped shatter the myth that receiving heath care support remotely is substandard. Certainly, there are some activities that need to be conducted in a physician’s office – we are not able to perform surgeries at home…yet. But there are a tremendous number of services that can be conducted anywhere anytime and I would argue are even better accomplished remotely.

The University of Southern California (USC) recently hosted a Body Computing Conference that highlighted the impact COVID-19 has had on the perception of health care and the obvious discrepancies in access, particularly for low resourced individuals and families. It has also brought attention to numerous emergency approval acts that the government can take to rapidly study, create, test, and deploy medical interventions as needed. A key point made throughout the conference was that the ability to monitor a person at home can have dramatic impacts on their everyday health but it can also significantly reduce the need to visit hospitals. With home health monitoring, issues can be addressed more quickly, with minor interventions, and typically at a lower cost. At one point they stated that with home monitoring and feedback, heart patients dropped hospital visits from 40% to 2%!

However, and this “but” is a big one – home monitoring costs less, requires you to see and spend time with a physician less, results in fewer medicines taken, and reduces the likelihood you’ll have to go to the hospital and when you do, the length of stay will be shortened. While every one of these outcomes is positive for Americans and their families, especially given the lowered cost and barrier to access which allows more people to get the care they need, these results also reflect an enormous reduction in the multi-trillion dollar health care system that we now have the United States. Stated another way, given that health care is a for-profit business in our nation, it means the goal is to make money. Period. Full stop. All the efficiencies described above reduce the profit bottom line and that, essentially, means that the true goal of the health care industry is missed.

Many Americans on my travels around the country stated that if we have a for-profit-based health industry that competition will be higher. My rebuttal is that the people who go into this business are already, by personality, driven to compete. What the for-profit structure does in actuality is define mission goal by money instead of health. Do you want the best health care….or the most expensive one?

Five Pieces of a Five-Thousand Piece Puzzle

World Puzzle Colors

It is unavoidable in the United States today to not see the severe divide growing between and among our people. With change always comes friction but the challenge today is that the ability to determine what is real, what is ground truth, and who is trustworthy is nearly impossible to determine. The rapidity of information sharing now possible through social media has overloaded not only data systems but also our minds.

And yet, how different is today from history? Sadly, there is little difference in the activities being undertaken and the goals that people hold; however there is an exponentially higher rate of spread of information and disinformation that categorically changes and elevates its impact. One the biggest findings of my tour was that people are hungry for information and by and large, Americans want to know the truth. The challenge every citizen faces is trying to figure out where truth lies and who to trust.

And yet, I’d challenge the question and rebut with the notion that while we are all searching for as much accurate information as we can gather, the reality is that the information we seek is not publicly available – whether for security reasons or by design. National security demands that information be withheld from the public. There is no surprise in that notion – surely, no coach would show the opposing football team their plays before the game began. Similarly, our military and security sector agencies must keep the majority of information, goals, and innovations close hold. But it is the other, the lack of information or release of misinformation by design that has contributed to the dividing beliefs of our country.

I had no trouble, ever, throughout my travels explaining to citizens that the real truth lies in a space to which few, if any, have full access. We are all holding, at best, five pieces of a five-thousand piece puzzle and then trying to draw conclusions and make decisions based on this limited intel. And the truth is, we can’t – at least not with any trust in accuracy.

And yet, what choice do we have? It is important to acknowledge that each of us is forced to make the best decisions we can with the limited information we can access because the one thing we can control is our respect for our fellow citizens who are trying to make sense of the same messy and absent information we are. Our differences, therefore, our born out of the different pieces we hold, which provide us access to different parts of the larger picture. Our differences are not true differences but rather perspectives that have led us to defend, as different realities, separate sections of the real picture. And if we, the people, can see that, acknowledge that, we can share our pieces and gain knowledge.

Strategic Design: Why do you care?

It often feels like selling broccoli to a three-year old. It’s not that the youngster is unintelligent, it’s just that they haven’t lived long enough to understand the long-term effects of choices and they lack the knowledge to understand concepts like “health” and “nutrition.” In three-year old terms, broccoli looks weird, smells bad, and tastes strange so what’s the upside? Compared to cotton candy or spaghetti which fill their bellies and taste delicious, broccoli seems like an unreasonable leap with only the benefit of a concept that one can’t appreciate for many years if not decades.

Strategic design and subsequent planning feel similarly to many people. It’s not a lack of intelligence that keeps decision makers from buying in, it’s a lack of understanding of what is gained, avoided, or more efficient that is unclear. Add to it the cost and most companies and especially public agencies will avoid the metaphorical broccoli for the immediate outcomes gained by short-term, clearer solutions. Yet, like with all good metaphors, just as too much sugar and carbohydrates will eventually negatively affect a body, so too will a lack of insight, understanding of the enterprise, and planning eventually result in metaphorical “health” problems across the ecosystem.

This is what is happening in our country today. For too long, we’ve refused the discussion of politics in “polite” conversation – it’s seemingly reserved for argumentative sport. In doing so, we’ve failed to model healthy behavior in debate and allowed those with the loudest voices, but not necessarily the most informed or even the most interested, to direct platforms. Further, with the monetary incentives and the cyclical nature of the political game, short-term wins create sound bites for campaigns and the goal of winning has an unintended consequence of skipping the vision, strategy, and long-term planning needed for the country to do the maintenance work required to endure. We’ve allowed erosion within the governmental systems to go unchecked and unaddressed. We’ve eaten too much sugar and not enough broccoli. It was not only predictable, but it is now also inevitable, that there will be substantial prices to pay for these choices – and avoidances.

The irony though is that it won’t be those who made the decisions in the first place that will be affected, it will be those with the least knowledge, awareness, and resources who will be the carnage.

It begs the real question: Will we recognize the error of our ways and choose to lead a healthier lifestyle of broccoli and exercise or will we ignore the warnings, blame others for these predictable but indirect issues, and allow rot to set in? There’s no avoiding the price anymore, there’s only an option to lessen the consequences.

Creating an Intellectual Force

To date, we have necessitated a military defense force that can operate with physical strength, stamina, agility, and demonstrate all these abilities consistently under extreme stress. At the highest level, a strategic mind has always been necessary. In many positions within the military branches, the same holds true. There have traditionally also been positions where physical prowess was the primary capability needed.

As we move further into the 21st century, we will see increasing demand for intellectual-only positions. We will see the need for drone operators, cyber security analysts, and psychological specialists. In many ways, the intelligence community has been the driving operator in this more purely intellectual space but the future battlefields are increasingly requiring not only the intellectual capability and knowledge but also a warrior mindset. It begins to move out of the deep analysis space and into the intellectual warfare space where battles are fought through non-co-located reality or virtual reality. As we progress as a world into this nebulous battlespace where there are no boundaries, visual information is limited or absent, and where the human body is not required to be at the highest level of readiness, we begin to see the need to consider with a wider swath of eligibility requirements for military service.

Do you need to be fully able-bodied to fight war from a desk? Do you need additional skills, capabilities, and training to be cognitively agile? Intellectually stealth? Have high attentional stamina?

Much research within the U.S. Department of Defense as well as in other militaries across the world are asking these questions, developing proposals for improved talent management systems and requirements, and taking action to curate the latest research in cognitive science to inform the creation of an intellectual soldier – one that optimizes mind capabilities but perhaps not physical skills.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

Expanding the definition of Service

It is widely stated that while our active duty and reserve personnel are the key individuals within the military ecosystem, without the other supporting entities, they would be unable to do their jobs at the high-level Americans expect. Additionally, it is often recognized that military training is some of the best life training for discipline, self-reliance, and decision making under pressure. But with only 29% of Americans ages 17-24 eligible for military service, not only do we lose access to these individuals’ other talents but they lose access to the life training opportunities available. Expanding the definition of service can create the opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skill set, interest area, or physical capability, to serve our nation and to benefit from the lessons this service experience brings.

There is a need to a) create a culture that shares this message and b) create structures to support it. How do we accomplish both?

First, we would need to develop a centralizing structure that recognizes local, state, national, and international service. Structures already exist within government that can collect, organize, and label this data. Second, we would need to create a number of service positions with differing commitment timing. Specifically, this includes analogous programs to reserve units, developing a second responders program, and intermittent volunteer opportunities through private or public programs.

By tangibly recognizing service to the nation, socializing the need for it and the benefit of it, as well as making it easy to participate, a national service program office could be established and supported within the DoD to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to share their expertise with the nation and ultimately improve national readiness.

Photo by Daniel Tausis  John Middelkoop  Holly Mindrup

Military Suicide

Flag in field

We have come a long way in talking about this understated elephant in the room. Yet we have not found a solution. I used to say that our military personnel risk life and limb in theater (on the battlefield). I have revised my statement to say:

Our warfighters risk life, limb, and mind.

As a psychologist, this is not only an area of concern but it is also an area of expertise for me. My last billet was under personnel and readiness and this is the segment of military that focuses on these issues. Though I worked more on the readiness side, there is a reason these two subsections are connected. ‘Readiness’ is not just about being physically capable anymore, it is as much about being mindful of one’s surroundings, capable of making difficult and complex decisions under stress, and protective of the mind’s limitations.

There is no question that the services are taking this issue seriously. There is no question that society is doing the same. Sadly, there is also no question that we are not winning this battle of the mind and it is costing us dozens of servicemembers…daily.

How do we change course?

We need to take what is called a multi-dimensional approach to understanding why this continues to happen in such numbers and the pattern of events, thoughts, and feelings that lead up to suicide. These are not new ways of looking at this issue but what is new is recognizing that a) we have a self-selecting group that enters the military, b) we have traditionally looked at how to treat our personnel after they return from theater, and c) we focus on the individual when perhaps we need to consider the system. There are many avenues that have yet to be thoroughly researched or implemented including preparatory mind exercises to reduce the onset or severity of PTSD and structures that can be put in place following service to ensure that our vets are receiving the same daily life support to which they become accustomed during their active duty time. It can be significantly disconcerting to come back to a society so unaware of the realities of what our servicemembers experience.

We can create readiness programs that focus on mind insulation and preparation.

We can create support structures post-service that provide a continuation of the design they are used to.

We can improve our transition preparation and process to ensure success!

No one avenue will help. Rather, it needs to be a combination of assets, preparation, tools, options, and ultimately, continued teamwork within the military community to support all our active duty, reservist, and veteran defenders.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Modeling Collective Brilliance

In my observations of and time spent working with the military, I am consistently impressed by the collective and pervasive ability of service members to, actually or metaphorically, duct tape anything together and make it work.

Ingenuity is a hallmark of the services.

But there are two other common mantras (I suppose I should acknowledge here that in fact there are many more as well): ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel’ and ‘Teamwork matters.’

All of these ideas are employed in the Veterans’ support team in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This may be a small town, but it boasts an extensive decorated military heritage and a huge active support team for vets. I had the honor of getting to meet and talk with many of the members of this exceptional city and learn about not only the individual programs that they each run but also about how they work together to meet all needs for all vets. These men and women represent what I call ‘collective brilliance.’

As I come out of military readiness, the mantras above resonate with me, guide me, shape how I look at problems. Rarely is it the case that money is the sole element required to solve a problem. Even more rare is the probability that someone hasn’t already solved it. Rather, it is most often the case that some person or some group have solved either the exact problem you’re facing or at least a portion of it already. When this is the case, it is cheaper, easier, and far more effective to simply connect the dots than it is to spend more money solving the same problem…yet again.

I call this process: Find Brilliance; Repeat.

This idea is what has driven me to traverse our country. It is my hypothesis that we have all the talent, ideas, programs, and examples across the amazing, large, exceptional country of ours that we need to solve all of our national issues. We simply need to find those that have solved pieces of each issue and connect them.

Bowling Green, KY has demonstrated how teamwork matters for true change. They have proven that federal dollars can be used to pay for facilitative actions (like a coordination person or team) and combined with local programs that know their residents and needs best. It sounds simple in concept but too often in federal work we aim to create large-scale, costly solutions because we focus on budgets, politics, and solving problems in Washington while unintentionally missing the local capabilities.

BGKY helps confirm my belief that government operates at its best when it acts as a facilitative entity that helps coordinate local brilliance and share models of success across states.

Thank you to everyone BGKY – you guys embody my campaign motto: Unity Strength Action. Thoughts and ideas are great but if and only if they result in action. You all are exemplary.

Disclaimer: As always, interviewees provide information, not endorsements.

Focus on Prevention

Running Shoes

Too often, we focus on solving problems by looking at symptoms, then trying to eradicate them. If healthcare costs too much, then we find a way to reduce the cost with subsidies or increase taxes for the rich to pay for the poor. If we see people without healthcare, we create a government program to give it away for free. And of course, there’s always the plan of – if we can’t fix the situation, we’ll ignore it until it goes away or the people affected stop complaining.

Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, these plans will never work because they don’t actually solve the root issues. What needs to happen is a full re-architecting of the healthcare system. One of the first changes needs to focus on teaching, encouraging, and focusing on preventative health. Anxiety, depression, heart disease, and a host of many other ailments are induced by high, continuous stress. Well known as this is, we continue to favor the ‘well-rounded student who does everything,’ reward and encourage work-a-holic behavior, and focus on, as well as measure, achievement over experience. In other words, it is not enough to create access to doctors, clinics, or hospitals, we have to create a national cultural shift that values wellness. We have to educate young people, design a value system that views life as an experiential journey, and use the power of the government to facilitate healthcare that starts with prevention as a measurable pillar of the system.

If we hope to create a healthy society in mind and body, we must look beyond medicine to cure disease and begin by looking to ourselves and living a healthy lifestyle.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Healthcare is not a punchline; It’s an ecosystem

wellness picture of sand raking

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that short punchlines often spoken by politicians tell us little about how such chants can be realized. And yet, the wonk that shares all the details bores the crowd. Where’s the middle ground? Medicare for all is a widely shared idea but very little information exists regarding how it would exactly be implemented. Further, it relies on Congress to allocate extensive funds to get the existing system expanded and maintained.

Beyond these challenges, I am constantly perplexed by the fact that, not just in healthcare but across most areas, there already exist mature programs that could address many of these national issues, cheaper, faster, better. You might wonder why people running for president do not know about these programs. For that matter, why don’t Americans, who are paying for all these solutions, know about these programs? Two simple reasons: 1) there are too many for anyone to track and 2) government employees aren’t allowed to share information without permission. Ultimately it means that we are all forced to make decisions with limited knowledge and out of necessity to be short and sweet, politicians provide us with punchlines they believe will make us vote (regardless of whether or not the stated goal is achievable or not).

How do we change this practice? We approach problems through a new lens and ask different questions. We look at healthcare not just through the lens of a new law or more money but rather by looking at the entire system and idea of health and wellness care, combining that information with government programs already being funded, and talk to the individuals both providing services as well as receiving them. When we put all that information together, we have a chance of creating a system that really works in terms of cost, care, and citizens.

National Readiness starts with ensuring our Earth is healthy but very next, ensuring that our people are healthy. When Americans are ready to learn, ready to work, and ready to live – that’s when we truly have created a system that works.

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash