What can we learn from how surgeons learn? BE A TEAM!

[Aside… At 3:20a I shouldn’t be doing this, but I don’t learn…]

I’m reading Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. There’s a great description of a then recent study (book from 2002) from HBS on learning curves in different industries. One “industry” that the HBS students decided to study was the medical industry — surgeons specifically. In this case, they followed 18 cardiac surgeons as they learned a new technique of minimally invasive surgery.

The surprise from this study was that the surgeon on one the fastest learning teams was relatively inexperienced to the surgeon on one of the slowest learning teams. The fast learning surgeon:

  • Picked specific team members and kept a consistent team for max learnings
  • Conducted a dry run before the first case
  • Scheduled six operations for the first week to increase knowledge retention between cases
  • Held a planning and update meeting before each surgery and a debrief afterwards
  • Tracked results carefully

The slow learning surgeon did not carry out these points.

It reminded me of one of the areas where we are struggling a bit now as we grow. Folks are understandably frustrated by the number of people with whom they “have to” coordinate now. I’ve often thought about this and wondered how you inspire the excitement of working with a team more. Sure, it is easier to be “fully in control” yourself, but you miss so much learning and improved solutions… and really collaboration fun. Yes, it takes work… and more work than if you were able to do things yourself. You need to have the dry runs, and the planning and debrief meetings. Basically, without this kind of structure, you do have the overhead of a team, without the rewards.

Hope this spurs some thoughts for you as it did for me.

What is on my shirt…

What do you pack
to pursue a dream?

… as I go off to pursue a dream! (By the way, this is written on my shirt in our new Santa’s sleigh font. Perfect for this thought…)

2 thoughts on “What can we learn from how surgeons learn? BE A TEAM!

  1. Axel says:

    Good example! It seems that we need to remember how to combine creativity with discipline. Sometimes creativity is misunderstood as chaos, but in reality it is no problem to have a hundred new ideas a day. The real challenge is saying YES to the right thing and keeping track with the help of the right approach. Often it is easier to run after every new thing than to get up the discipline to do the right thing in the right way.

  2. Axel, I like this reminder… creativity is not chaos. At the Innovation Lab, our structured exercises most often came up with the most creative ideas. The discipline gives you time to be innovative because you aren’t chasing after too many things. Thanks!

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