Doctors and the Permission to Speak

Let’s say you’re a doctor and you have an idea, opinion, or a new way of doing things.  What do you do with it?

It used to be that the only place we could share ideas was in a medical journal or from the podium of a national meeting.  Both require that your idea pass through someone’s filter.  As physicians we’ve been raised to seek approval before approaching the microphone.

This is unfortunate.  When I think about the doctors around me, I think about the remarkable mindshare that exists.  Each is unique in the way they think.  Each sees disease and the human condition differently.  But for many their brilliance and wisdom is stored away deep inside.  They are human silos of unique experience and perspective.  They are of a generation when someone else decided if their ideas were worthy of discussion.  They are of a generation when it was understood that few ideas are worthy of discussion.  They are the medical generation of information isolation.

I spoke with a couple of students recently about medical education reform.  And as I often like to do, we discussed what was needed to prepare doctors for life in 2050.  I picked up on the most remarkable ideas and suggested that they publish their views as a position paper or editorial.  They looked puzzled.  And for good reason.  They believe that the simple expression of their brilliance is not their responsibility or even their right.  It’s that of some national professional body or editor.  You need the keys to the kingdom to be heard.  You need permission.  You need to be invited.

In Poke the Box, Seth Godin calls this the tyranny of the picked:  Waiting and hoping “acknowledges the power of the system and passes responsibility to someone else to initiate.

But the way the world communicates is changing.  The barrier to publish is effectively non-existent.  The democratization of media has given every physician a platform to the world.  But the physicians have yet to speak up.  We’re preoccupied with how our voices will sound.  We pine over what someone might think.  We’re too concerned with how we’ll look and not concerned enough with how our thoughts, ideas and passions could be an instrument for the world.

If the 20th  century was marked by the physician-as-silo, the 21st century will be marked by the dissolution of barriers and the emergence of new ways of collaboration and thinking.  This will be a generation marked by information and networks.  The institutions that existed to organize us will give way to social structures compatible with the way we communicate.  Tools for sharing and drawing from collective intelligence will capture our restrained wisdom.  And I suspect that we’ll see the most amazing things emerge.

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Physicians and the Moral Obligation to Create Content

I was thumbing through Seth Godin’s Poke the Box and stumbled on this quote.  I couldn’t help but put it in the context of physicians and their obligation to make content:

I hope we can agree that there’s a moral obligation to be honest, to treat people with dignity and respect, and to help those in need.

I wonder if there’s also a moral obligation to start.

I believe there is.  I believe that if you’ve got the platform and the ability to make a difference, then this goes beyond “should” and reaches the level of “must.”  You must make a difference or you squander the opportunity.  Wasting the opportunity both degrades your own ability to contribute and, more urgently, takes something away from the rest of us.

Once you’ve engaged within organization or a relationship or a community, you owe it to your team to start.  To initiate.  To be the one who makes something happen.

To do less is to steal from them.

That last sentence is compelling.  Perhaps our silence is a crime against patients.  Dramatic, for sure, but does makes me think:  What more could we be doing?

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Book Notes: Poke the Box

Poke the Box is Seth Godin’s latest book/manifesto.  This is different from his other books in that it runs only 70 pages and is published as part of a new venture with Amazon called The Domino Project.  You may remember last year Seth Godin rocked the world by suggesting he was done with mainstream publishers.  This is where he’s landed.

Poke the Box is a short, 70 page manifesto about the importance of starting.  Godin makes the case that the ability to take initiative is a trait that consistently characterizes those who succeed.  The ability to begin creating is what separates the talkers from the doers.  Not making lists, planning, organizing, networking, or amassing followers.  Starting.  There are how-to steps here, just a foundation for taking a new approach to what you do.  This is a sequel to Linchpin.

I struggle with this myself.  Around the first of the year and well before I read Poke the Box I committed to spending a little less time around the water cooler and more time creating.  Thus I’ve been a little less visible on Twitter.  I’m desperately working to shut off distractions.  Poke the Box resonated with me.

Consider this quote about Godin’s friend and Twitter.  It’s worth processing:

Apparently, my friend has set the phone to chime every time one of the people he follows on Twitter posts something. This gives him the chance to read it and respond, making him, presumably, a truly valuable follower. He’s hoping that polishing his relationships in this way will act as a form of networking, making him more integrated into the Tweeters’ lives and perhaps businesses. All this polishing. Stand on an urban street corner and you can see it happening. Dozens of ostensibly busy people, staring at their palms and their fingers, polishing their relationships. The challenge is that it’s asymptotic. Twice as much polishing isn’t twice as good. Ten times as much polishing is definitely not ten times as good. Whether you’re polishing a piece of furniture or an idea, the benefits diminish quickly. The polishing turns into stalling. I wonder what would happen if instead of rushing to Twitter, my friend used that chime to do something original or provocative or important? What if the chime was his reminder not to polish, but to create?

In a way that only Godin can do he marries motivation with raw logic.  I would strongly suggest that if you are in the business of doing or creating, drop what you’re doing (temporarily) and read Poke the Box. It’s a quick read.

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