Updated: Apr 26, 2020
This is my story of how I got up to speed on an abstract subject most people around me were not aware of or discussing, and how I soon realized a few were already well ahead of me bringing Blockchain to life
When meeting with a few friends one particularly lucky St. Patrick's Day I was first truly introduced to the concept of Blockchain. Up until what became my #BlockchainBirthday, March 17th, 2016, I had only seen a few headlines about Bitcoin, but hadn't looked into it very much at all. All that time I didn’t realize that Bitcoin is what's referred to as a cryptocurrency that happens to leverage blockchain technologies to enable the qualities that make the currency methodology compelling.
With this very helpful introduction to #Blockchain my friends provided me, I was now energized and wanted to catch myself up to this abstract concept. Thankfully my friends explained blockchain in a way that helped open my eyes rather than dismissing the concept altogether. The key success factor for that introduction was the fact that we started the conversation around a particular industry, Healthcare. And the premise for our conversation was to compare notes as to why Healthcare was so challenging and why there was so much discussion, political challenge, and confusion about the current state let alone its future state. Using a few scenarios or small cases as focal points for this introduction we were able to look at easily packaged and discussable topics that the small group could wrap our minds around easily in one sitting. Then looking at these healthcare issues one at a time and with each one my friends introduced an element, fundamental, or goal of blockchain technologies. After we made our way through three or four healthcare matters my friends transitioned the conversation to blockchain which they were well-versed enough to begin summarizing with the elements they had already placed on the table, so to speak.
The way in which Blockchain was introduced to me is a fine detail, but important point. To explain blockchain technologies to folks it helps to work around a commonly understood and well-packaged focal point. Moving too early into the technology, or considering grand visions of how distributed ledger technology can solve the world's largest problems just won't work to explain the concept while successfully getting newcomers onboard and open to learning more. My friends had succeeded, and I am fortunate to have realized the method in which I was introduced hoping it may allow me to help others acclimate to blockchain more successfully - hence why I started this website.
Upon leaving that happy hour, I walked away with three questions in my mind:
How could I confirm what I had just been introduced to, Blockchain, and reconcile my healthcare observations with this abstract concept?
Where do I find reliable resources to learn more about Blockchain given there were so many options and perspectives to consider, many of them too technical?
Who else could I speak with in my personal and professional circles about Blockchain to hear their perspectives?
These questions remained in my mind as I ventured off from being introduced to Blockchain to hopefully reaching the point where I could be involved with this intriguing movement.
How would I reconcile my introduction to Blockchain and my observations of the challenges in Healthcare while knowing I had a very steep learning curve to climb?
Truly understanding an abstract concept, like blockchain, is easier said than done. Given that I had a day job in an already complex environment, healthcare #finance and #revenuecycle, along with a family, friends and other interests and obligations, how would I find the time to spend on this new topic and should I even worry about it. Given my motivations from countless days of frustration, I decided to make time. It is a great time to be alive with mobile technologies where idle minutes here and there could be invested on my iPhone or iPad to seek out articles, blog posts, and videos as I began sorting through this Blockchain arena.
Along the way I would look back on my list of observations in Healthcare considering the challenges holding the industry back and opportunities I saw to improve it to think through how the distributed ledger technology elements might fit in certain ways. Without this list I may not have had the benefit of real-life cases where I could apply blockchain concepts and consider their applications to current #inefficiencies I experienced first-hand.
I would soon realize that one could work their way pretty deep into technical rabbit holes, but I had to remind myself I was trying to examine this technology enough to gain an appreciation for how it works technically while focusing on the concept themes and its application potential. I still had to sort through a wide variety of resources finding most to be very technical not providing me the initial understanding I needed first. Fortunately, I used Pocket, OneNote, and Safari bookmarks to capture the best ones. And I decided to pull them into a handy list within this website for the next newcomer to catch up faster, helping them focus on reliable and efficient resources cutting to the chase to get up that learning curve faster. Because anyone looking at the blockchain environment regardless of industry should examine this technology enough to gain an appreciation for how it works technically while focusing on the concept themes and potential in order to evaluate its merits.
Where would I find reliable resources to learn more about blockchain?
I came to realize that there are lots of articles, blog posts, videos, TED talks to start combing through. I tried out many. What I quickly found were that there were a couple flaws in the delivery of this content for what I needed as a newcomer.
1) Most were overly technical with jargon I didn't yet understand
There were many resources I came across from very intelligent experts in the blockchain space. However, several of them tried to impress upon the audience their technical capabilities and prowess through the use of terminology that would need further explanation from other resources. Perhaps these resources I should save for future reference, but continue seeking out more preliminary guideposts along my learning curve hike.
2) Others demonstrated the application or potential of blockchain through grand gestures as if to "boil the ocean"
There's a fine line between an inspirational speaker that can successfully motivate members of an audience to take an important first step in making a change in their life or their community, and a speaker who may come across selling a grand vision that at first glance seems promising but may either be an empty promise or a solution for a problem that doesn't need solving. Two of these come to mind:
The Simpsons Show: "Monorail" Episode
Dr. Seuss Book: The Sneetches & Other Stories
In seeking out foundational yet realistic resources I had and have maintained a healthy #awareness that those unfamiliar to blockchain with I may soon start interacting might perceive someone explaining the concept as either #1 or #2 as highlighted above. So, I am reminded at this point of the approach that was taken when I was introduced to blockchain technologies and use that as my frame of mind when speaking about this to others to not come across as a snake oil salesman. But I began to wonder who else knows about this promising blockchain technology?
Who else knows about Blockchain in my professional and personal circles?
They say the best way to prove you know something is to try to explain it to someone else. With a rapidly evolving landscape in blockchain technology could anyone have a solid footing of the current state? All the more reason to begin talking to folks to gain additional perspectives, continue to refine my own, and perhaps open up others' minds through an introduction to this technology. I took a leap and started talking to others about Blockhain.
I began speaking to a few family members and then friends with whom I trusted. I figured we could have an open-minded conversation about blockchain like we discussed other random topics in the past. I quickly realized that most of the people I was speaking with had very little awareness of this topic area. I also found that they were in fact open-minded, but my explanations needed a bit more polish and clarity. Practice makes perfect. Returning to my notes after each of these encounters, I kept doing my own homework and organizing my thoughts for each subsequent conversation.
After seeking out a few more family members and friends I started coming in contact with folks that at a minimum were slightly familiar with Bitcoin and in some cases very familiar with blockchain technologies more broadly. I even found a couple cousins who were making quite a name for themselves in this arena. This helped me gain even more perspectives from those further ahead of me. Additionally, I was able to think through the concept and test my knowledge with folks I trusted helping me refine my understanding and ability to explain it better to others.
I followed up with my friends from that pivotal St. Patrick's Day gathering and began asking that always beneficial networking question: "who else do you recommend I speak with in the blockchain space?" I found them to be very generous with connecting me to several leaders and proven experts along with suggestions of discussion forums and conferences that I could see who else was involved in the space.
Feeling pretty good about the momentum I was gaining, I felt the urge to bring up blockchain elements in conversations at work. When a particular issue arose, which would end up on my aforementioned list of healthcare observations, I would highlight the concern my coworker and I just uncovered and weave in a "what if" with a non-technical description of a distributed ledger technology element. For example, when there was a remittance issue between the payor or clearinghouse and us, the health system, I might say "what if our claims database could be replicated with the clearinghouse and the payor's own databases in a way that was useful for each of us and they were all kept in sync timely, kind of like Drobox?". That was usually one that I found resonated with the person to open up the conversation which would lead me to asking "have you heard anything about distributed ledger or blockchain technologies?" and the conversation would often continue productively most of the time. I wouldn't take it too far but rather just plant the seed. I just wish I had a handy place to refer them if they wanted to learn more. Now I do.
Sadly, the vast majority of colleagues in my employer, business partners, and industry had not ever talked about blockchain technology and most had never heard of it. Some understandably were too busy solving today's healthcare problems with today's available solutions and didn't have the bandwidth or interest to learn about alternative approaches that may be further off from implementation. A few even had closed their minds to the concept based on initial reviews and conceptualizations that weren't very accurate to help successfully acquaint them. I had enough of a healthy awareness by this point that Blockchain would not solve many of the world's problems like the monorail would not solve the City of Springfield's non-existent problems. But I was quickly gaining appreciation for blockchain technology as elements that could start changing the way we do business in healthcare, in particular addressing frustrating pain points many of us are aware of. And it wouldn't be a change overnight, but rather a methodical and incremental process to fit this technology into an already tangled knot of an industry.
Perhaps it was my place to keep going with this exploration of blockchain, catching up my own understanding and organizing my thoughts and findings in a way that might help the next open-minded newcomer step up to the learning curve foothills and find the ascent a little bit easier.
Moving from learning about the technology to imagining the possibilities
After several months of studying, reflecting and conversing about blockchain and its merits in healthcare I was forming a clarity around the topic and refining how I might see my place on this new playing field. I could organize my thoughts and findings in a way that may help save others time in catching up too. But more importantly working my way through learning about blockchain in order to begin thinking instead about the possibilities of blockchain.
I continue to be aware that discussing blockchain could make me sound like a snake oil salesman. As my understanding becomes deeper and more complete I can provide ways to introduce this technology to others just like my friends had done for me. I also have two methods to avoid in doing so in order to bring other newcomers to the blockchain brainstorming table more successfully.
It is fair to say Blockchain is still in development. We need to continue solving today's healthcare problems with solutions that are available today. While we are busy doing that, we need to invest time, energy, and conversation on solutions that need extra lead time for development in order to be ready to solve today's problems in more efficient ways when todays turn into tomorrows.
Check out our resources page to get a head start up the Blockchain learning curve.
We've curated a short list of efficient and reliable sources of information when reviewed order will hopefully help you switch from learning about blockchain to #ImagineThePossibilities for yourself and quicker than it took me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, we hope it was helpful in you reaching your #BlockchainAhaMoment.