Shadowing (the people of the) Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Portfolio

Shadowing in Princeton (View on

I have been a part of the first class of Pioneer Portfolio advisors for about 10 months now. It is itself a pioneer innovation, to expand the networks of the portfolio in a more hands-on way. I believe each of the six of us defined our own path during the year, and one of my asks was, “If you want me to advise you, it would be more respectful if I see what you do.” This is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (@RWJF), its innovation portfolio (@pioneerrwjf) and specifically Mike Painter, MD (@paintmd) and Christine Nieves (@nieveschristine) – so they said, “of course.”

For references on the why of doing this check out the “Fallacy of Detachment (Becoming a leader does not mean leaving day-to-day operations)” in this blog post, and the more recent blog post (with presentation!): Getting the Facts about patient and family experience: Shadowing (presentation) | Ted Eytan, MD

I was last at the Princeton headquarters of the RWJF about 5 years ago. I still remember to this day that when I casually mentioned to someone there that I would like to write a blog post about my visit, I was greeted by a communications professional with many many questions about what I would be writing about. Through the magic of social media, that blog post is still viewable – “How do you feel about the fact that our nation’s most prestigious medical schools don’t have a family practice department?” | Ted Eytan, MD – I didn’t get in trouble, I promise :).

It’s 5 years later and a visitor on Tuesday will walk into the weekly Program Staff Meeting with scrolling lists of upcoming events and twitter hashtags. The WiFi network signal is strong, the devices are out, and live tweeting is encouraged. Organizations change, I’ve learned this about my organization, that it’s important not to fix an impression in time, because when you come back, you’ll find that your impression was wrong. In the case of social media, I’ve known for some time that RWJF has been leading the philanthropy world in open leadership, so what I saw was just confirmation.

I got to see the preview of this video, “Imagining a Culture of Health” at the PSM meeting, along with a talk in the #WhatsNextHealth series that is produced by the Pioneer Portfolio. This week’s talk was by Jessica Lee Green, PhD (@JessicaLeeGreen), at University of Oregon, and the microbiomes of our bodies and the buildings we inhabit. Check out this graphical view of the microbiomes of buildings. It adds a twist to sustainability and health, as architects design buildings designed to sheild us from the outside world. Fascinating. Again, this is the RWJF, where new ideas flourish, so we had our microbiomes assessed while we were there (check out the photos below).

This especially relevant this week, since Kaiser Permanente announced that we will pursue LEED Gold certification from now on for all large projects: Kaiser Permanente to Pursue Minimum of LEED Gold for all New Major Projects | Kaiser Permanente News Center and with a LEED Gold hospitalbeginning to operate later this year, one of 30 in the United States.

The magic of Sodexo at the RWJF cafeteria

This is the power of the RWJF alumni network. I was told by Nirav Shah, MD, MPH to make sure and notice the cafeteria, operated by Sodexo. That so stuck in my mind that my photos are mostly in that space. Check it out. I was even able to test the limits when I asked for extra chicken on my salad. Only one entree per person. We should all be amazed at the portion size that accounts for 550 calories – it’s smaller than we think. Yikes.

Pioneer in Action

All of this led to the weekly 2 hour Pioneer team meeting. Half of it was used/given/leveraged to Jessica and myself, the other half was the business of Pioneer, which is discovering pioneering ideas and helping them flourish, through presentations to colleagues, slow-hunching a la Christine and and dialogue. The thing for me about Pioneer (and RWJF) is that I when I work with them I have a good sense that they are listening and watching to what’s out there already. The likelihood that I’m going to bring them an idea they haven’t seen/heard is low.

I think based on my shadowing, the right approach for this advisor is not to try and impress (we all have impostor syndrome anyway), it is to respect and support, so the year has been more about connecting things to the health system I work in and comparing/contrasting the ways each of our organizations pursues new ideas. I work in the Pioneer-esque analogue at Kaiser Permanente, the Center for Total Health (@kptotalhealth), which is connected to our Innovation and Advanced Technology group and our sibling in California, the Garfield Center (@KPGarfield). Depending on the idea, we may work directly at the connection between innovation and the member/patient health, where this group may work at a higher level, creating favorable conditions for all health systems to take up and spread new innovations. We help each other that way.

Speaking of connecting, Mike and John Lumpkin (@jrlumpkin) are going to shadow us back (sort of), when they present at the Kaiser Permanente innovation Retreat next week. +1

What did I miss, Pioneer colleagues? Thanks for having me, thanks for the culture of health, and thanks for getting me here/there, both on Tuesday and in life.


I don’t think you missed a thing–except perhaps our walking meeting around the RWJF grounds where we solved several major world problems. There was that. We really enjoyed our day with you, Ted. Your astute eye and camera really captured it.  In fact, your pictures make lunch look almost as good as it always tastes.  We’re obviously very happy that you observed RWJF for what it is–a growing, ever-changing, learning organization.  The social media vibe here is just one obvious manifestation.  Our leadership strongly encourages us to dive into the world–and as you say–listen, learn and interact–social media of all stripes is one great way for us to do that.. I personally think you’re also correct that this group tries hard to listen hard and well (see aforementioned learning organization moniker).  We’re not, however, going to let you off the hook quite so easily…we absolutely not seen or heard all that’s out there–that means your advisor advice remains critical. Thanks so much for taking the time to come and visit.

Ted Eytan, MD