Monday, February 19, 2018

Your Pain is Your Genius

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

The Obstacle is the Way - Epictetus

I quote one of my heroes, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Ryan Holiday also turned the phrase into a fine book [ LINK ]

What’s it mean in the context of management and leadership?

In Strategy one of our most important tasks is identifying ‘where the shoe pinches’. Imagine we’re a hospital and our biggest problem is Patient Harm. Do we have the courage and humility to talk it openly?

“Folks, we have a big problem…” Can we analyse our mis-medications, infections, and medical errors openly? Can we look at historical trends, compare ourselves to other hospitals and other industries, and produce Pareto charts by type of harm, care line, procedure, time, location and the like?

Or imagine we’re a provider of on-line streaming and our biggest problem is Downtime. Can we talk it openly? Can we analyze incidents, quality rate, overall equipment effectiveness, Mean-Time-To-Repair, Mean-Time-Between-Failure and the like?

Can we also look at historical trends and compare our performance to that of industry leaders like Netflix? Can we break our incidents down and produce Pareto charts by type of outage, service, channel, type of equipment, location and the like?

The obstacle is the way – for the hospital and for the on-line streaming provider. Finding where the shoe pinches, and fixing it, is the path to excellence. To be sure, Design is also central. We have to connect with our patients or customers and understand their needs and journeys.

But there too, the obstacle is the way. Understanding the patient or customer journey entails understanding the ‘pain points’, and designing them out. (And if you get really good, designing in delightful moments, but that’s a topic for another blog.)

As an aside, football fans will recognize this principle in the great teams & coaches. The great Alabama Crimson Tide coach, Nick Saban, invariably talks about it in interviews. (Same is true for New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick, though some believe he is nefarious =)

All this takes courage & humility, of course, qualities that have always been rare. (Otherwise, would we talk about them so much?)

Much of my personal practice entails coaches senior executives and Boards. Job One is often dispelling the ‘Everything is Just Great’ syndrome.

But that too, is a topic for another blog.

Be strong, be honest and remember that your pain is your genius.

Best regards,


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