Jack Uldrich
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Bite the Hand that Feeds You

Posted in Business, Health Care, Unlearn Strategy

GoEnglish_com_NeverBiteTheHandThatFeedsYouThe mastery of transformation is the process of unlearning what you have already learned.”


Question: In hospitals, what action is estimated to reduce the risk of infection from catheters by as much as 90 percent?

The answer may surprise you: systematic hand-washing. That’s right, if more healthcare professionals—the people charged with healing you—would simply scrub their hands more diligently, countless numbers of preventable infections would be averted; an estimated 25,000 lives would be saved; and billions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare costs could be avoided.

Hand-washing to save lives is nothing new in the healthcare system. More than a century and a half ago, Ignaz Semmelweis discovered if doctors would wash their hands and sterilize their equipment prior to performing childbirth the mortality rate among women also plummeted. So how long did it take doctors to adopt Semmelweis’ simple, life-saving technique? Almost 20 years!

It would be comforting to think of this painfully slow transition as a historical anomaly but it has been estimated that it still takes 17 years, on average, before a healthcare-related “best practice” will be adopted by a majority of medical professionals.

Getting otherwise intelligent and well-intention people to change habits can be hard. This is especially so when these folks are considered experts in their field. One way to challenge this arrogant behavior (and avoid it yourself) is to “bite the hand that feeds you” and constantly challenge your best practices and ideas.

One rule to help get you started on this path is this: It is OK to be in love with what you do but not with how you do it.

For example, in the 2000s, IBM was quick to adopt open-source software because it wasn’t “in love” with how software was provided. The same couldn’t be said for Microsoft which stubbornly resisted the transition for a much longer period of time. Netflix has similarly avoided falling in love with how movies are delivered to consumers and, today, less than a decade after disrupting the movie rental market by mailing DVDs, it is aggressively moving toward streaming videos via the Internet. Amazon is doing much the same by embracing cloud computing and electronic books. The company understands it is not in the business of distributing physical books but rather distributing digital content.

Even Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers to play the game, makes it a habit to regularly revisit everything from his swing to his grip. Famously, after winning an unprecedented six consecutive tournaments, Woods once announced to the world that his swing “sucked.” He proceeded to re-tool virtually every aspect of his game in order to ascend to an even higher level.

Woods and other companies which systematically attack their success do so because they have embraced the wisdom of the late management guru, Peter Ducker, who once said “Every organization has to prepare for the abandonment of everything it does.”

Rarely, will you be handed the next great opportunity in life. More likely, you are going to have to grab it but this isn’t always possible if your hands are still filled with yesterday’s bounty. So go ahead bite the hand that feeds you—it may just free you to grab the next rung on the ladder of success.

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