Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Glass Half Full

My 17 year old daughter recently wrote an essay that began "we cannot see our own eyes.  The perception of ourselves comes from the reflections of others - how we're perceived and treated by the world around us".

Later in the essay she laments that the modern world seems to embrace bad news, negativity, and criticism rather than joy, optimism and gratitude.

I agree with her.

2010 has been a particularly strange year filled with audits, new compliance requirements, and regulatory review.    Negative commentators have been granted more airtime than those trying to make the world a better place. We have become a nation that thrives on sensational news,  usually to someone's discredit.

There may come a time when we spend more time defending our work to consultants, regulators, and naysayers than doing it.

I wonder if it is possible to reverse this trend.

Imagine the following - instead of a statement with an accusatory overtone such as

"40% of clinicians in Massachusetts do not have an electronic health record.   Clearly the state has challenges."

How about

"60% of clinicians in the state have an electronic health record, making Massachusetts one of the most wired regions in the country.   For the remaining 40%, there is a step by step plan to achieve 100% adoption by 2015.   Massachusetts is the only state to mandate EHR adoption as a condition of licensure by 2015."

Instead of highlighting a small number of flaws in a person, a team, or an organization, I would rather celebrate their strengths.  Then in the context of a positive trajectory, discuss that ways they could be even better.

I rarely see this approach.   Instead there is a focus on what is not done, not planned, and not budgeted, sometimes declaring risk without providing a benchmark as to the real current state of the industry.

For example, what if an audit or consulting report declared

"IT has not implemented flying cars"

Senior management or Board members might think they should worry about IT management, IT planning, or Governance processes.

Of course, no one in the country has implementing flying cars and the first production vehicle is not expected until 2011.

Business owners facing their own operational challenges might say - we cannot move forward with our workflow redesign because IT has not deployed the flying cars needed to support our automation needs.

Thus, IT becomes the bottleneck, the area of scrutiny, and point of failure.

Consultants might even be hired to analyze why IT has not implemented flying cars and make recommendations for accelerating the flying car program.

Of course, there are numerous other projects that deserve time, attention and resources before flying cars are even considered.

So what's needed to make this better?

First, we need to eliminate our default tone of negativity.   The quality, safety and efficiency risks we have today were there last year. Somehow we still delivered appropriate care.   They is focusing on the trajectory, making each day better than the last.

I've recently rewritten several reports to take this more positive, optimistic approach.  Instead of a gap or failure mode analysis, I created a trajectory analysis and mitigation analysis.

If we persist with a negative approach in the way we interact with others and manage our organizations, our work lives will continue to change for the worse.   How so?

A recent NY Times column relates the modern world to life in a Zombie film in which we spend each day shooting Zombie after Zombie in a war of attrition until the Zombies are all gone or we become one of them.   Think of your email, your cell phone, and your meeting schedule as a daily battle against Zombies and you'll see the author's point.

As my daughter said, we define ourselves based on the reflections we see from others.   If others are negative, we become negative.  If others highlight the positive, the good, and the trajectory to become even better, we will do the same.

Thus, each one of us can make a difference.   Start tomorrow with a glass half full and soon, those around you will see the world for what it can be instead of of what it is not.
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