innovation + experimentation + collaboration can lead to a successful tomorrow – wisdom from Atul Gawande (from the current health care debate)
If there are any definites in this very indefinite and chaotic era, here is one: change is constant, and to get to what works successfully tomorrow requires a lot of innovation and experimentation and collaboration to make it to that successful tomorrow.
Recently, Atul Gawande — surgeon/professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School/international expert and leader on surgical processes/journalist for the New Yorker/MacArthur Fellow (the “Genius Grant”) – wrote about the Senate health care bill that just passed. Many have complained that it really only offers pilot programs to try out in hopes of fixing the problems. This is what he writes:
Where we crave sweeping transformation, however, all the current bill offers is those pilot programs, a battery of small-scale experiments. The strategy seems hopelessly inadequate to solve a problem of this magnitude. And yet—here’s the interesting thing—history suggests otherwise.
In the article, he speaks glowingly and factually about the great success story of the government provided “extension agents,” who work tirelessly to help our farmers increase their productivity. Their work is a textbook example of innovation and experimentation and collaboration. They try all sorts of new ideas, in many pilot programs, and they are always calling each other asking for advice on what will solve their specific local challenges.
The article tells the history of this long-running and ongoing and successful government program (officially the U.S.D.A. Cooperative Extension Service). The first agent was called an “Agricultural Explorer.” How’s that for a title?! Gawande includes this provocative paragraph:
Cynicism about government can seem ingrained in the American character. It was, ironically, in a speech to the Future Farmers of America that President Ronald Reagan said, “The ten most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ” Well, Lewandowski (a current extension agent based in Athens, Ohio) is from the government, and he’s here to help. And small farms in Athens County are surviving because of him. What he does involves continual improvisation and education; problems keep changing, and better methods of managing them keep emerging—as in medicine. (emphasis added).
Though the article is about the health care crisis, and the encouraging lessons to be learned from the government extension agents, the formula is clear, and provides quite a successful business model: innovation + experimentation + collaboration can lead to a successful tomorrow.
(Check out Gawande’s web site to read some of his earlier articles. He is a terrific writer).
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