“Rocket Science meets Brain Surgery” is the attention-grabbing personal slogan of Healthcare innovator Robert J. Szczerba. And he can back it up: Szczerba started out in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, where he performed research with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He then spent more than 15 years at Lockheed Martin as a Chief Engineer and later Corporate Director of Healthcare and Life Sciences.
Today, Szczerba is out to revolutionize Healthcare through advanced technologies. He left Lockheed in 2013 to form X Tech Ventures, a company built on William Gibson’s famous quote: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” For Szczerba, this quote captures “a simple message: that the answers to some of our most complex problems may not be light years away but may simply require a more informed look at the present.”
Why did Szczerba turn his focus from aerospace to healthcare? “My interest in healthcare arose about 6 years ago when my son was diagnosed with autism,” he explains. “That experience gave me insights into the deficiencies of the healthcare industry and also motivated me to find ways to improve it.”
At X Tech Ventures, Szczerba oversees incubation and acceleration of technologies for diverse companies. He also writes a column at Forbes exploring the “intersection of technology, innovation, and healthcare.” I did a Q&A with Szczerba to learn how healthcare PR pros can connect and collaborate with industry thought leaders and innovators.
Do you see the Forbes column as a media trend, where industry executives–not journalists or editorial columnists–are viewed as thought leaders?
“I’d compare the media trend today of using industry executives as columnists with a similar situation in sports broadcasting from several years ago. In that case there was a lot of controversy when a professional player went directly from the field to the broadcast booth. The feeling from traditional broadcasters was that the player ‘didn’t pay his dues’ as they had. But the athletes became color commentators and were paired with traditional broadcasters to produce a higher quality product. I’m not a traditional journalist: I provide “color commentary” on the technology and healthcare space. I’m an opinion writer.”
What strikes you as good subject matter for a column?
“The subject matter that I’m most interested in revolves around looking at problems from different or unique perspectives…Can we take a common technology in one domain and apply it to another? Like the intersection of the aerospace and healthcare industries. Flight simulation is common in aviation to train pilots in very complex and stressful situations. You can test complicated scenarios on a simulator in a low-risk, low-cost environment.
So, what would happen if you built a ‘flight simulator’ for a hospital to train people on new procedures in the ICU or ER? Why should a nurse have to read a 200 page manual to learn how to use a new medical device when they could practice using the same device modeled on their smart phone?”
What do you find frustrating with PR people who contact you?
“I really don’t like ‘attack pieces.’ People often pitch me stories that attack another person, product, or concept. I have no issue with writing a critical piece about another person’s idea, as long as I have an alternative approach to put forward.
Destruction is easy; but creation is difficult. When people pitch ideas that criticize products or concepts I always ask what their approach is and why it’s better. Unfortunately, more often than not they rarely have a good answer.”
What do you find helpful?
“I appreciate it when someone sends me comments or suggested topic ideas, but not as part of a formal pitch. For example, sometimes people send me comments on my recent articles suggesting another article for me to look at that takes a different point of view.
I also appreciate it when PR people have done their homework on what I write about and are able to give a quick 30-second summary of why this topic might be of interest to my readers.”
Who or what is your ideal source?
“I don’t think my ideal source falls into any one particular category. I tend to reach out to people who are passionate about their topic. Someone who wants to change the world and is cocky enough to think they can. These are the people I want to talk with.
Who says that the greatest ideas need to come from the chief of surgery from a major hospital as opposed to a charge nurse in a rural clinic? The best ideas don’t always come from where you’d expect them.”
How do smaller companies grab your attention?
“For my columns, I don’t differentiate between large and small companies; I only differentiate between large and small ideas.”
Image provided by Robert Szczerba: