Tuesday, July 29, 2008

For Better or Worse

I just finished reading a nonfiction book called Better: A surgeon's notes on performance, by Atul Gawande, a surgeon. This doctor also wrote a book called Complications in 2003, which I enjoyed very much. Dr. Gawande's narrative prose gives us insight into the issues of perseverance, competence, and conscience faced by a thoughtful physician.

The author's perspective on performance is enlightened. It helps the reader imagine how it feels to work in a profession where perfect performance is needed, yet absolute perfection is not possible. In particular, I found Gawande's commentary on evaluation and measurement quite interesting.

Many strategists point to sports teams (and athletes) as examples of how to increase performance. In competitive environments, we see individuals strive to improve and win - inspired to beat "the other guy". But this book explores another aspect of performance - striving to be better because it will help people, or because it is the right thing to do. I especially like the examples of physicians who are already recognized as "the best", but strive for constant improvement.

I read this book because I thought it was an interesting topic, not because I expected to relate it to my work, or to marketing. But I find myself drawing parallels, and learning from the text. So here are my takeaways from a marketing perspective:

1. Have compassion - for your clients, customers, and co-workers.
2. Be humble - know that you can continuously learn more and improve your work.
3. Measure your performance - choose to measure something important, and it will improve.
4. Understand that even in a large and imperfect system, one can still do the right thing.
5. Persevere - when you meet a challenge that stumps you, keep trying!

I'm going to print out the list above and tape it to the wall next to my desk for inspiration. :)

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