A few more comments on the relationship between these three words that one hears all of the time these days. I first became interested in creativity in college (Caltech, home of worshippers of Nobel Laureates) and still am, because it is certainly a critical quality of our species. But the word, as I said in an earlier post, is usually associated with concepts and prototypes. It was not until I began practicing what I had learned in college, that I realized the huge gap between ideas and successful implemention (the two together now called innovation). Not only do our minds desperately want to keep us safe, but our fellow humans are ambivalent about change. They are in favor of it only if they are sure that the concept being considered will improve their individual lives, or at least not impair them. If you think about it, a reasonable stand. So naturally I became interested in innovation.
Right now, there seems to be sufficient concern about our lives, economic and otherwise, that we are eager to support innovation and at least like to think we are open to change. But now I have become interested in how to implement things well. And as I said in the previous post, that requires not only creativity in defining products and process, but commitment to extreme attention to details, which is sometimes seen as more boring and perhaps plebeian than generating brilliant ideas and producing products that will revolutionize the world through their originality and advanced technology.
That is why I loved three books by Atul Gawande, that are not only beautifully written, but have to do with increasing quality through attention to detail. You may have read them, since they have been best sellers. They are not directly about products of industry, but I think pertinent to making things well. Gawande is a surgeon. The first of these books, Complications – A surgeons’ Notes on an Imperfect Science, contains stories about the aspects of surgery that are risky, either because of imperfect knowledge, inadequate drugs and devices, or the nature of surgical training, and finally, human frailties that can harm the patient. Great stories, and insights into surgery and medical care that everyone should have. The second book is entitled Better – A Surgeon’s notes on Performance. In this he makes the case that there is a sizable variation in the performance of surgeons, clinics, and hospitals, and medicine would improve if the statistics were made available and the resulting competition created a motivation for those working in medial care to improve. He makes his case well and is very aware of the problems (surgeons don’t like to be graded). And he stresses the importance of eliminating mistakes.
In his third book, The Checklist Manifesto – How to Get Things Right, he prescribes checklists as the solutions to improving many aspects of medical care and reports upon impressive improvements in medicine as well as other fields, and fierce resistance among medical doctors to their use (their belief that they are above having to be reminded to wash their hands and make sure the patient is adequately draped).
Gawande obviously feels that even highly educated and trained professionals (surgeons) benefit from being reminded of the necessary details to do outstanding work. He also feels that paying attention to details/not making mistakes offers more potential for short-term improvement than improved drugs and devices.
His approach to higher quality reminded me somewhat of the very successful campaigns to improve manufacturing quality in the 1970’s and 80’s. Many people thought them to be not all that creative, but they sure were successful. In a sense the book I have been working on, Good Products, Bad Products, which will be out in December, is a sort of a checklist on aspects of quality beyond manufacturing quality. I didn’t see it that clearly when I began writing it, because hey, red hot engineers and business people don’t need checklists. Gawande has changed my mind.
Inidentally, he recently wrote an article in the New Yorker Magazine (October 3, 2011) promoting that surgeons could benefit from coaches. Do you think engineers and business people should have them?