I was listening to an interview with the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande.  I couldn’t help but admire his brilliant career. His list of awards and honors was mind blowing, all he needed was the Nobel Prize and he would have had the lot. But much more than that was his willingness to talk openly about his failures, even the ones that may have cost the lives of his patients.

And that’s it really, if I screw up on a project it can have some kind of impact but, hopefully, never put a life at risk.  And then to be able to talk openly about my mistakes, well that’s tough. But Atul did. He told of how he once performed an operation on a lady which went horribly wrong. He spoke about how for a while he did nothing but blame himself until gradually he started to put the experience into context. And here is where Atul showed his inner strength. Instead of burying the incident away, he started to look at it in a completely new light.

He realized that he was to some extent a victim of circumstance, that the hospital where he performed the operation was under pressure, that there was no other surgeon available at the time and if he had not carried it out, the patient would have certainly died.

Atul went on to spend the next few years studying failure in surgery and eventually came to some conclusions:

  • No surgeon, no matter how brilliant can make a big difference on his or her own
  • The biggest factor for success is making sure the surgeon is part of a well-functioning team.
  • Taking the time to learn all the names of the team before beginning the operation saves increases efficiency
  • Making sure that everyone spoke the same language to the required level to be able to pass and receive instructions.
  • etc…

Today Atul Gawande’s pre-operation check list is used throughout the British National Health Service as a standard procedure. On reflection Atul’s interview reminded me of some of the mistakes I have made and how, at around the age of forty, I began to develop a methodology to ensure excellent results in all projects, regardless of their size and complexity.  Today my methodology has a name ‘Organizational Readiness’ but in the early days it was not documented and was just an informal way of trying to visualize how I would know when it was safe to implement something new.

Strange how it takes us so long to learn things that others before us must have known, after all just like Atul’s list – OR is not rocket science but it sure makes a difference.

Have a good week,