Personal

A New Turn

It’s exhilarating to be shot at without result.

– Winston Churchill

For the past two years I’ve written about various topics that I’ve found interesting.  If you’ve read some of these so far, I really appreciate it, and hope you found it useful! Going forward, I’d like to try something new.  Instead of picking a random topic, I’d like to pick a book bi-monthly, read it, and analyze it.  Think of it as a souped-up book report, related to the book’s implications for life, business, and healthcare.  If you have recommendations for books find me on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts!

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So, there seems nothing more appropriate than starting at the end.  Next month, I will kick off by reviewing Atul Gawande’s incredible bestseller Being Mortal.  Stay tuned…

Entrepreneurship, Personal

On Art as Motivation

The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.  But man does not create… he discovers.

– Antonio Gaudi

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about art — and not only because I spend so much time watching Netflix while my wife studies.  I think about it because mostly, I feel like I am consuming it in the background and am not sure how much I am actually absorbing.  Right now, as I write this post, Friends is on in the background.  Does it comfort me? Do I actually get the jokes? Does it help quell the sound of crickets at night? I don’t know, I just know I instinctively reach for it.

I care about actually making sure I am absorbing what I consume because art has occassionally, well, changed my life.  It’s a trite observation, but I always really enjoy when people talk to me about some piece of history they have read, or some documentary they watched, or even a great piece of music that they listened to that changed their life.

For me, the first time I had one of these life-altering moments was on a trip to Florence.  My wife and I had never been to Italy, and in getting there almost drove our car into Brunelleschi’s Duomo.  Exhausted, excited, and with a too-full itinerary, we headed around town. One of our first stops was the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David.  Even though I really have never had any connection to fine art, I specifically remember that as soon as I entered the main hallway that housed the giant sculpture, my heart stopped.  It felt like I was cresting the top of a roller coaster ride.  Honestly, it caught me by surprise.

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Me Seeing Michelangelo’s David

And on that same trip, it happened for my wife too.  We drove into Rome the following week, having had a long trip up and down the coast of Italy.  It was great, but exhausting, and to top it off the rental car somehow had a lot of damage for which EuroAvis was going to make us foot the bill.  After we crashed at the hotel for an hour, we went to see La Traviata at the Roman Opera House, a show we had bought tickets for long in advance.  I expected to look over and see Kelsey nodding off.  Instead, as the curtain ascended and the crystal staircase levitated onto the stage — replete with a singing Prima Donna — I looked over to see Kelsey crying.  It was the most silent, sweet cry I’ve ever seen.

After returning from Italy, I realized there were things in life that should have had no differing impact on me than a large statue in the Boston Commons or a Broadway musical, but somehow struck a deep deep nerve.  The reason I started off this piece with Gaudi’s quote about returning to the origin and my habituation to Friends is that I think we often turn to music, fine arts, movies, etc. that bring us comfort and relieve stress.  I know I do.  In fact, there are several psychological studies that link prenatal heartbeat tempo to human musicality.  Maybe we seek music that makes us feel like we’re in the womb again! Weird.

But instead, I really want to find the one or two pieces of art that will just connect with me on a “deep, cellular level”[1].  If you have an experience or two that did it for you, please let me know.  Otherwise, I will try to focus on quality over quantity.  I think these experiences are the kinds of things that lead us to avoid the instinct to self-soothe, and help us see the world in a broader, deeper light.

[1] The words of Dax Shepard.  I’m obsessed with his new podcast, The Armchair Expert.

New Year's, Personal

2018 Book List

Back at it again, with 5 books I read that totally changed my perspective on life, business, and coffee.  I would love to hear of any good books you’ve been reading, so DM me if you have them!

First, to commemorate the centennial of Armistice Day (the end of World War I), I picked up All Quiet on the Western Front, which (although I think I was supposed to read it in high school) I only saw the film for.  The book is far more gripping. In addition, I was recommended 1944 to discover more about the pivotal year in the second World War (the 75th anniversary of the end of that conflict is right around the corner too).

Second, I took a deep dive into business books as I started my next chapter in corporate strategy.  I’m making my way through Influence and The Basics of Hoshin Kanri to understand how decisions are made in large companies (or rather, how someone can make decisions “happen”).  This sort of plays on my theme last year of psychology books with true-to-life lessons (like Kahneman and Haidt), but from a more industrial/organizational lens.

Finally, I took the time to dive deep into what I say is a passion with some actual reading.  While a grad student, I found a wonderful local book entitled Craft Coffee that dives into the art and science behind coffee picking, brewing, and paraphernalia.  For any coffee-lovers, this is a great way to get quickly versed with what temperature to brew at, how to grind, and much more.

As with last year: rather than editorialize about each book individually, I’ve copied in the Amazon descriptions below (and included a link to Amazon Smile – go pick a charity of your choice!)  If you get some time this holiday season, these are definitely worth the read.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque.  Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive.

 

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1944: FDR and the Year that Changed HistoryJay Winik.  1944 witnessed a series of titanic events… But millions of lives were at stake as President Roosevelt learned about Hitler’s Final Solution. Just as the Allies were landing in Normandy, the Nazis were accelerating the killing of millions of European Jews. Winik shows how escalating pressures fell on an infirm Roosevelt, who faced a momentous decision. Was winning the war the best way to rescue the Jews? Or would it get in the way of defeating Hitler? In [1944] one challenge—saving Europe’s Jews—seemed to remain beyond Roosevelt’s grasp.

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Influence: Science and PracticeRobert Cialdini. Written in a narrative style combined with scholarly research, Cialdini combines evidence from experimental work with the techniques and strategies he gathered while working as a salesperson, fundraiser, advertiser, and in other positions inside organizations that commonly use compliance tactics to get us to say “yes.”…  Cialdini organizes compliance techniques into six categories based on psychological principles that direct human behavior: reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.

51h-tqyvVzL._SX331_BO1204203200_The Health Care Handbook: A Clear and Concise Guide to the United States Health Care SystemElizabeth Askin, Nathan Moore, Vikram Shankar, William Peck. The Handbook is the one-stop guide to the people, organizations and industries that make up the U.S. health care system and major issues the system faces today. It is rigorously researched and scrupulously unbiased yet written in a conversational and humorous tone that’s a pleasure to read and illuminates the convoluted health care system and its many components.

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Craft Coffee: A ManualJessica Easto and Andreas Willhoff.  Written by a coffee enthusiast for coffee enthusiasts, [this] is a comprehensive guide to improving your brew at home. The book provides all the information readers need to discover what they like in a cup of specialty coffee—and how to replicate the perfect cup day after day. From the science of extraction and brewing techniques to choosing equipment and deciphering coffee bags, Craft Coffee focuses on the issues—cost, time, taste, and accessibility—that home coffee brewers negotiate.

Corporate Strategy, Personal

Why Every Business School Should Have Improv Classes

Happiness is a choice.

– Tito Beveridge

This week I came across an awesome article in the Wall Street Journal talking about how improv classes can help you run a more effective business meeting (paywall).

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Business #Winning

It threw me back to that time at Booth when, the first week of school, we went on a Leadership Orientation Retreat (LOR) and were thrown into an improv class.  I’m not going to lie.  It was certainly awkward.  Thankfully for all of the class’s participants I don’t actually remember what we improv’ed.  But the experience left me with the one critical lesson that improv teaches:

Yes, and…

I find myself often in meetings where we are discussing a new proposal for some solution, service, etc. and we come to the meat of it.  The conversation goes like this:

Participant 1: I was thinking that we might lay out A on top of B and embed that in C.  Doing so would probably be the best solution.

Me: Well, the probably with embedding A on B in C is…

And I start to go on and on about some little nit that is kind of an issue, but if I’m being honest with myself not really a major issue at all.  And frankly, although I will admit to my mistakes, I am not the only one.  How often have you found yourself in a situation like this where coworkers are shooting down a perfectly good idea for reasons that are esoteric and seemingly unimportant?

For the longest time, I thought that this was probably because it was easy.  How hard is it to find just one thing wrong with any proposal? We get in our two cents, are “right”, and are able to have massive influence (a supposed “veto”) without having done much effort.

Some other people have proposed to me that it’s really a form of insurance.  People are incredibly resistant to change, and perhaps our natural state is a “Default No”.  It protected us in predator times against all of the things that were typically “change = bad”.

However, I heard a great explanation from one of my co-workers the other day: negativity as a bonding mechanism.   He’s not the first one to propose this.  Over a decade ago, researchers from University of Oklahoma and UT Austin proposed that negativity serves as a better mechanism for bonding than positivity.  Specifically, the authors posited that

…sharing negative attitudes is alluring because it establishes in-group/out-group boundaries, boosts self-esteem, and conveys highly diagnostic information about attitude holders.

Which brings me to the improv wisdom:

Yes, and…

It’s so simple, and yet so effective.  By not allowing yourself to begin with a “Default No”, the entire tenor of your suggestion becomes positive and constructive.  This has the benefit of allowing the entire team to feel supported.  I’m not the best at this.  But I am actively trying.  The article in the journal reminded me of just how effective this technique can be, and highly recommend it for anyone looking for team wins.

Entrepreneurship, Personal

Empathy

Vision without action is merely a dream.

Action without vision just passes the time.

Vision with action can change the world.

– Nelson Mandela (sometimes attributed to Joel Barker)

I’m getting excited for this week.  The stage is getting lit.  The Solutions Gallery is being set up.  It’s all coming together folks.

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#CHC18

I don’t have too much to say for this blog post given all the prep we’ve been engaged in at Cerner for this year’s Cerner Health Conference (CHC).  For those who aren’t familiar, every year Cerner hosts the Cerner Health Conference in the beautiful City of Fountains and brings together the best and brightest in the Digital Healthcare industry.  From providers to health system leaders to excited Cerner associates (that’s me!), everyone gets together for 4 awesome days to discuss the latest and greatest our organizations are delivering.

But the star of the conference every year is someone who is not always explicitly in the room: the patient.  Every single person at a session, keynote, or workshop is there to do one thing and one thing alone: improve healthcare for patients across the globe.

Which is why I was so moved this weekend by a short film from the Cleveland Clinic that I watched.  Every new Cleveland Clinic employee watches this video and is given a “Patients First” pin when they join.  If you have the time, I highly encourage you to watch it.  Tip: have tissues on hand.  By watching the video, wearing the pins, and always keeping the patient at the center of everything they do, employees at the Cleveland Clinic, from custodial staff to CMIO, have transformed it from an average institution to one of the nation’s best hospitals across every conceivable metric.

Lots of research shows that psychological distance has a big impact on organizational function.  The further removed companies are from the humans that they serve, the worse they perform.  This has often been cited as the reason for business scandals such as the Ford Pinto’s deadly fuel tanks and Impax delegating drug pricing to Martin Shkreli. It also is used as a potential explanation for Amazon’s incredible success in an competitive retail landscape: when you are earth’s most customer-obsessed company, it’s pretty easy to deliver value and beat the competition.  As a former Amazonian, I can tell you that the “Customer Obsession” value made it pretty easy to make decisions because there was always a right answer: whatever the customer needed.

So going into CHC18 I am most excited to bring this client focus to bear.  As a healthcare vendor, it is incredibly easy for Cerner associates like me to have psychological distance from the providers and patients we impact every day.  Events like CHC18 are an incredibly important reminder that at the end of the day there are real people counting on us to deliver in a big way.

Also, just please watch the video.  It is truly one of my favorite things I have watched this past year.  And that includes the much-buzzed-about A Star is Born remake.

Corporate Strategy, Personal

My Next Chapter at Cerner

If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a higher fence.

– Unknown

Due to graduation and my recent move, I haven’t had much time to think about the topics I usually like to post about.  Entrepreneurship is hard to do when you’re trying to move all of your family’s stuff, then realize that your new place looks totally empty.  I guess that’s the joy of going from 700 square feet to a human-family-sized home.

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Me In a Normal-Sized Living Space

For those who follow me (thanks for reading!) you know that I have written about how proud I am of my wife for getting into medical school.  That medical school is specifically the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk) and we were on our way to relocating in Kansas City.  After Booth, I was intent on pursuing my startup… until I made the painful decision to learn hard lessons instead of waste other people’s money.  So, looking to my next thing I tried to ask myself: how can I do that but be supportive of my family?

So, to avoid burying the lead: I took a job at Cerner.  Cerner has this incredible program (modeled after the famed GE “Green Beret” training) that allows recent MBA graduates to flex their skills (or improve their lack thereof) across multiple business areas.  I felt that this was the perfect mix of “intrapreneurship” and stability.  In these types of experiences, at the same time that you get to be around amazing, creative people, you get to grow your family and continue learning day-to-day.

Cerner offered me an interesting opportunity at a crazy fast-growing company in an industry totally different than I had ever done before.  Healthcare IT would seem like software, but given the intricacies of healthcare, the payer model, physician satisfaction, and much much more, there is a ton to ramp up on.

So I’ll keep this short and sweet: I’m obviously super excited! If you are in healthcare, IT, Kansas City, or just want to reconnect you know how to find me.  I am doing my best to learn fast, but always can use a helping hand.

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After Reading This Post You Be Like…
Personal

Not All Activities are Humble

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

– John Gardner

When I have time in the morning before I go to class, I often turn on CNBC to see what’s going on in the markets and what’s happening in the news.  That channel is… amazing.  It’s like watching Sesame Street meets The Electric Company for adults.  It’s educational, it’s fast-paced, and there are so many colors and moving parts that my eyes can barely follow as everything flits across the screen.

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How I View CNBC

One of my favorite segments is “The Santelli Exchange”, where Rick Santelli offers his two cents about anything and everything market-related (that’s actually where the term “Tea Party” used to describe the 2010 Republican movement came from). So let today’s post be “The Diamond Exchange”, because I want to offer perspective on something that happened to me recently.

I was talking to an investment professional who tracks market movements for a living.  He was discussing what his day-to-day is like, his views on the industry as a whole, and where his biggest problems lied.  And then he said something that floored me. While discussing his analytical approach and his issues sorting through data to parse what is accurate and what’s misleading, he said:

Honestly, this is still just a blue-collar job.

He viewed his work theorizing about the markets and movements as akin to working in a factory, putting in long shifts on an hourly wage.  Frankly, I think this is the wrong attitude.  I’ve written before on being grateful for what you have and redirecting your energy away from the small worries and into the bigger picture issues.  But the Yin to that Yang of gratitude is to be grateful for other people and what they do.  I’m very grateful for the working-class men and women of this country who support our energy, manufacturing, and industrial sectors that require hard, day-in day-out, blue-collar manual labor.  And I do not want to minimize the work they do by saying that what knowledge workers do is anything like that.

What most white-collar professionals do is of an entirely different cloth: we are the philosophers of today’s day and age.  Software engineers do build, but their implementations are based on complex theories (often untested!) of how systems will interact and perform in production.  MBAs make a living as consultants and bankers developing theories and ideas about mergers, productivity initiatives, innovation, etc. that they experiment with in the workplace.  Their intellectual work product is extremely valuable, but the workers in those fields are very fortunate to have fewer physical ailments and earlier retirement than their blue-collar counterparts.

Speaking from experience, these physical maladies are especially difficult to work through. When I was at Amazon, I had a relapse of a sports-related back injury that required a cortisone shot and lots of PT to work through.  I can testify to how debilitating that was.  Both my professional and personal productivity suffered greatly, and just getting on the subway to commute to Cambridge each day was a struggle.  And I can testify to how different this was than my intellectual struggles.  Yes, I am exhausted when I go home from Booth at the end of a day working on cases, attending lectures, and writing papers.  But that is completely different from the physical low that came with my injury, and that comes with manual labor.

So, I think it’s important to continually remind ourselves of the supreme value of blue-collar work, and remind us of it’s different, important place in our society.  Although the knowledge economy is firmly here, and growing rapidly, I truly hope there is always a revered place in our society for manual laborers so that both our pipes and our theories continue to hold water.