While I was driving around New Year’s Eve day, the local National Public Radio (NPR) station was having listeners call in and report on the success or failure in keeping 2013 New Year’s resolutions. As one can expect, the failure rate far exceeded the success rate. Certainly not surprising. What is surprising is we now have volumes of research both current and old on how to create successful behavioral change. In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale wrote: The Power of Positive Thinking. I received my copy sometime in my early teens from my mother. It has become one of the most widely read self-help books ever written. It launched my curiosity about the power of our minds and individual performance improvement. My journey was jump started in the mid-80’s during a leadership seminar presented by the late Bob Moawad. Dr. Peale was a clergyman and Bob was a former high school basketball coach. Neither was a scientist or clinician, but both were promoting ideas regarding self-improvement through the power of the mind. These concepts were anything but mainstream and primarily the domain of clinical psychiatrists and psychologists working with patients diagnosed with some type of mental disorder.
Fast forward to today and thanks to advancements in technology, brain science information has routinely found its way on to the New York Times best sellers list. Chris Argyris (late), Peter Senge, Daniel Pink, David Rock, Alan Deutshman, Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely, Chip and Dan Heath, Margaret Wheatley and John Kotter are just a few of the authors contributing to the growing body of literature bridging the highly technical world of neuroscience to understandable, layperson concepts.
So as I start the New Year, I’m wondering if this will be the year for a sea change in healthcare. Some analysts believe the inflection point for healthcare was in 2013. Frankly, it’s been surprising that healthcare leaders have chosen to ignore the “medical science” available to create large scale organizational change. Maybe this is just a real life example of the saying, “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.” But on the other hand, “the facts” indicate how hard accomplishing organizational/behavioral change really is without confronting our thinking.
But there’s good news and bad news. Bad news first. While healthcare has an enormous number of caring and compassionate people working very hard to deliver high quality, compassionate care, there exists an enormous amount of hierarchical, command and control management/leadership oversight to see that things are done right. It’s counterintuitive to me that this situation exists. The question now becomes, can “carrot and stick” leadership create a change paradigm necessary to move organizations from where they are to where they need to be?” As we all know, lack of change in a capitalistic economy can be very harsh. The 1990s were a time of many hospital mergers or closures. People are displaced, lives are disrupted and organizations can even disappear. Unfortunately, it appears the old approaches are being used once again. Given the success of change initiatives in other industries, I’m skeptical.
But the good news is very good! The very smart people mentioned at the beginning of this blog have created numerous playbooks of tools, techniques, stories, and examples of how to create sustainable, large-scale, organizational change. We don’t need to recreate or even invent the wheel. The examples range from saving cardiac patient lives to projects by Ford Motor Company, The U.S. Army and Royal Dutch Shell to name just a few. You might be thinking-'but I’m not CEO and can’t impact these changes'. It doesn’t matter where you exist in an organization. We all know leadership isn’t just a title. Understanding how our brains function and process information is a critical component of any leader’s tool kit. Understanding the implications that neuroscience is discovering about human behavior isn’t just a passing management fad. It’s fact and reality. These learnings show us how our brains work, for better or worse. I don’t have the space to share even a few of the stories written by these authors. We all have mental models from which we unconsciously operate. We have filters that only let in information that confirms what we already believe. I can only encourage you to start your own journey through the information.
For those of you doubters, let me share a simple exercise. Take about 10-15 seconds and read the following sentence using eyesight only (no finger pointing) and count the number of F’s in the words:
Finished files are the result of years of scientific study
combined with the experience of many years.
Have a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!!! I’m planning on continuing this discussion in future blogs that will include an insight into how, in only a decade, Texas high school football has gone from producing NFL running backs to NFL quarterbacks and my own personal pilot project using the concepts neuroscience is providing.
Oh, by-the-way, there are six F's.