THE BLOG
06/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Milken's Simple Solutions

The premise of the centuries-old theoretical principle known as "Occam's Razor" is that all things being equal, the most practical explanation is typically the correct one. Nowhere was this more evident than at the 2010 Milken Global Conference, which wrapped up Wednesday in Los Angeles.

For more than a dozen years, hundreds of economists, executives, philanthropists and VCs have gathered for an annual three-day event that analyzes the current state of economic, political and international affairs. This year's meeting, "Shaping the Future," touched on an array of topics, ranging from climate change and collaborative media to education and health care.

Against a backdrop of high unemployment and an economy still in recovery mode, a common talking point heard throughout the conference is that health care remains one of our nation's fastest-growing sectors, and is expected to generate 3 million new jobs between 2006 and 2016 (more than any other industry). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that four of the top ten job categories projected to have the largest growth in the next decade are in health care.

But at an event known for complex analysis, the overarching theme was just the opposite: simplicity wins the day, especially in the midst of a protracted recession, skyrocketing deficits and American competitiveness on the wane.

Consider the issue of obesity.

"We know you will die prematurely if you're overweight," organizer Michael Milken told an early morning panel discussion hosted by CNBC's Maria Bartiromo. "It's an issue of priorities."

Milken's solution? Declare a "national war" similar to the one waged in recent decades against smoking.

"America has the best results on smoking of any country," said Jay Gallert, president and executive director of California-based Health Net. "We took it off TV, taxed it to death. But we're not going to war against obesity."

Medical innovation - another key discussion topic - drew a similar level of focus.

Top-of-mind thematics: adopting a strategy that keeps the U.S. competitive in innovation-based fields, integrating technology to help bridge the digital divide within health care, accepting a certain level of risk for R&D and fostering greater collaboration between academia and industry.

"How are we building models to help scientists understand what they're building?" asked the Kauffman Foundation's Lesa Mitchell at a breakout session hosted by Faster Cures and the Council for American Medical Innovation (CAMI).

Among the proposed solutions: incentivizing collaboration and reframing the existing academic model to help researchers understand and collaborate with commercial partners. One panelist noted that more than 800,000 academic research papers are produced every year, many of which never leave the shelves.

Without question, the prospect of a more innovative and interconnected health care system, stronger economy and collaborative planet was on clear display at Milken 2010. But talk is talk. Whether the conference's simple and straightforward ideas extend beyond the meeting room walls will ultimately determine the extent of its success.

Sean Donahue is Senior Vice President of The Herald Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs and strategic communications consulting firm.