Thursday, January 06, 2022

Widen Your Lens: How Might I Learn From Others Far From My Technical/Industry Domain?


For the most part, we tend to focus on learning from others within our technical or industry domain.  However, adopting this narrow lens means we are missing out on some valuable and impactful learning opportunities.  When working with companies, I often encourage them to go beyond simply benchmarking their direct rivals.  I pose the question: Who is world class at solving a complex problem that you are facing at the moment?  Who has come up with an ingenuous solution to a thorny issue confronting your organization?  Go study that organization.  Don't try to copy what they are doing, because naturally, they are in a totally different context. Instead, attempt to discern some key principles regarding how they have solved that particular problem. Then consider how you might apply those principles to develop enhanced practices within your own organization.

My favorite example of this type of "stretched" or "widened" lens for learning comes from a story I read in the Wall Street Journal several years ago. The article, by Gautam Naik, is titled, "A Hospital Races To Learn Lessons Of Ferrari Pit Stop: Auto Crew Teaches Surgeons Small Errors Can Add Up On the Track, or in the ICU." The article tells the familiar tale of how surgeons in at Great Ormond Street Hospital, a UK-based pediatric care center, were worried about the possibility of medical errors during "handoffs" - i.e., those crucial times when a patient is transferred from one unit to another, or from one clinical care team to another. "Fumbled handoffs" represent a common source of medical accidents. Naik writes, "A 2005 study found that nearly 70% of preventable hospital mishaps occurred because of communication problems, and other studies have shown that at least half of such breakdowns occur during handoffs.

Naik describes a fascinating moment that occurred one day as Drs. Allan Goldman and Martin Elliot watched one of their favorite sports on television. The physicians observed in awe as a Formula One auto racing pit crew engineered a remarkably efficient and safe handoff each time the driver entered the pit during a race. They decided to try to learn from these racing crews and apply those lessons to their work in the hospital. Naik describes what happened next:

In early 2005, Dr. Elliot, Dr. Goldman and Mr. Catchpole traveled to Ferrari's headquarters in Maranello, Italy, and sat down with Nigel Stepney, the racing team's technical director. As a test car roared around a nearby track, the visitors played a video of a hospital handover and described the process in pictures.  The Ferrari man wasn't impressed. "In fact, he was amazed" at how clumsy and informal the hospital handover process appeared to be, recalls Mr. Catchpole, now a researcher at Oxford University.

In that meeting, Mr. Stepney described how each member of the Ferrari crew is required to do a specific job, in a specific sequence, and usually in silence. By contrast, he noted, the hospital handover was often chaotic. Several conversations between nurses and doctors went on at once. Meanwhile, different members of the team disconnected or reconnected equipment to a patient, but in no particular order.   In a Formula One race, the "lollipop man" with a paddle ushers the car in and signals the driver when it's safe to go. But in the hospital setting, it wasn't always clear who was in charge. Though the anesthesiologist had nominal responsibility to take the lead during a handover, sometimes the surgeon assumed that role -- or no one at all.  The crew at Ferrari trained for the worst contingencies. "If Michael Schumacher comes in five laps early because it's raining and he wants wet-weather tires, they're prepared," says Mr. Catchpole, referring to the Ferrari driver and seven-time world champion, who recently retired. The hospital team dealt with problems as they came up.

After carefully distilling key lessons from the study of the auto racing pit crews, the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital developed a new protocol for handoffs.  The procedure was detailed - 7 pages of carefully orchestrated steps for a safe transfer of the patient.  What happened when the physicians implemented this new protocol?  Errors and information omissions decreased by more than 40%!  Importantly, the doctors didn't try to simply copy what they observed.   Instead, they identified key principles and approaches that could be adapted and applied in their quite different context.   That "translation" and "adaptation" is essential when learning outside your own technical/industry domain.  

No comments: