HealthFoo 2013: Best Cancelled Event I have ever been to

We’d rather fail together than succeed alone View on Flickr

At 3:30pm on Friday, we received word that Health Foo, an annual unconference about health, set in Cambridge, MA, was cancelled. However, many of us were already en route, so we did what we’ve learned to do : fail together rather than succeed alone.

Regina Holliday (@ReginaHolliday) and I decided that if we needed to talk and tweet at Boston Logan, we would. We found Danielle Cass (@daniellecass) who delayed her return home to California, and proceeded to Cambridge.

There was no mistaking the gravity of the situation on Friday. The decision to cancel was a good one.

What happened next, though, was that people did arrive, and we took the conference DIY. For 3 days. It was kind of .. amazing.

Thanks to the generosity of the Little Devices Group (@littledevices) at MIT (@MITNews) , we found a home, after having a BrunchFOO and a WalkFOO, which took us by the memorial for 26 year old MIT Police Officer old Sean Collier.

The great thing about the setting was that we were doing our work amongst students doing their work to prototype devices and transportation of the future. 

The camp itself was terrific – I learned a ton about my areas of interest, sustainability in health care, transgender health, and a lot about areas I will be interested in, such as heart rate variability. This was an intimate health foo and it worked just great.

Regina Holliday painted a beautiful piece that incorporated the themes of the weekend – from the sorrow and sadness around the events in Cambridge and Boston, to the things we discussed in our groups. She made a point to listen in on the sessions that I proposed, and made the people and topics visible in the final work. In my case, it is that we can’t produce the health of a nation unless all people, and the planet, are included. The road, by the way, is our crazy life ride. Note the open door and tweets coming from the frame marked “MIT”. The piece is called “opened doors.”

Great leaders are people who help other people further their goals even if they are different than their own. There were a lot of those people at Health foo this weekend opening doors in addition to Regina, making a contribution to everyone’s learning. Fred Trotter (@fredtrotter) did a great job organizing our work and keeping people engaged.

Near the end of our time together, Regina presented her painting to our gracious host at @LittleDevices, Anna Young (@AnnaKYoung), who became overcome with emotion. She told us how happy the Little Devices group was to have us for the weekend and be a part of HealthFOO this year. The feeling and gratitude was very mutual.

I think I would like to see more un-unconferences. Get people to come to a city they are not from, cancel the meeting, and watch as they innovate in space, time, and with new people. Just go completely DIY. They’ll discover what we did, which is that people will work to be part of something bigger and giving is more powerful than getting. 

Regina reminded me that patients are used to not having resources to achieve their goals in the health system. Maybe that’s why this FOO did so well. We were prepared to fail, but in the end, we failed at failing, because we had patients on our side :).

Here are my picks from the photographs I took over the weekend. You can see the whole collection here.


tedeytan a brilliant post of a brilliant time! littledevices annakyoung fredtrotter

ReginaHolliday tedeytan I see that. Looks like fun. 3D printing electric motorcycles and fredtrotter too.

Ted Eytan, MD