The New Yorker ran a great article in December last year on complexity and simplicity in the medical setting – specifically around the Critical Care environment (subsequently, the NYTimes has also followed suite with a version citing surgical checklists and safety). Both refer to the NEJM study by Dr. Atul A. Gawande.
As I sat reading this after a hard day grinding the gears, I realized my life really wasn’t all that hard if the truth be told.
Peter Pronovost is an inspiring legend. Seemingly indefatigable as a fellow earth-dweller, he is all at once an ebullient, enthusiastic personality with a realistic enough cast to understand that even the most expert of human performance is still just that… well err… human!
As some have poetically said – “To Err is Human” and we humans, set in such overwhelmingly complexity can commit many (and grave) errors with serious outcomes for our ecosystem. But to forgive oneself for committing the errors is truly divine. I would have to consider if modern medicine is educating certain individuals with that predilection to truly believe they are incapable of such errors – the infallible right hand of God so to speak. Is it cognitive arrogance to believe that we can remember every crucial detail in such environments as the ICU, OR or even the cockpit of a commercial airline? Failure is not an option.
The intense focus exhibited by people like Peter Pronovost, who become a super-specialist – further than a specialists – is amazing. Its also life altering and personality changing work. When people put such intense effort into an endeavor, a lot of their personal image becomes rightly invested in that character. Following a list seems like a smack in the face of that persons intelligence and abilities.
Also,when someone has a great idea that is validated and lauded by their peers and society, it becomes hard for them to escape that idea in future. They are forever perceived as the “Wikipedia Man” or “Mr Facebook”. Does that cloud their thought processes about other, perhaps non-related, environments or actions? I would say yes it may well do.
To exhibit that form of self-reflexivity when approaching a new idea is really an awesome feat. The tendency would be to rely on the point of view that garnered such attention and accolade. It’s sure is hard to think about me thinking about thoughts. But Peter Pronovost did just that by shedding his education and super-specialist approach to see the lifesaving beauty and utility value in constructing simple lists. That’s “simple elegance”.
Just as some of our (grand)parents carry the Deppression Era mindset with them – frugality above all else – So to does our recent successful idea/action stay with us and affect our future actions.
Where am I going with this….
I think the combination of a disciplined regiment coupled with an attitude and some aptitude will lead to great ability and this may just be the path to excellence.
Oh, and also “Write a List” man…