Gary Oftedahl: (Un)common Purpose
I had an epiphany today. That in and of itself makes the day worthwhile, but while often times epiphanies lead to clarity, and provide firm direction for next steps in one’s life or occupation, this did neither. So perhaps it’s not an epiphany, but an awakening.
Very recently, ICSI posted a blog from one of my colleagues at ICSI, Janet Schuerman, addressing our work in shared decision making, and raising some extremely interesting perspectives on this evolving area of focus in our health care world. (http://bit.ly/d19Ivv). It caused me to reflect and realize that in the distant past, I’d myself put words to paper to address this topic—almost a year ago. (http://bit.ly/Vrwhu) And while our comments had many dissimilar elements, they raised the many challenges and opportunities that face us in advancing new ideas and constructs in our work in transforming the health care system.
For some reason, perhaps a perverse sense of angst or self deprecation, I had some insights into a recent lethargy and lack of energy which has permeated my psyche. I’d thought it was a “summer cold” which had been primarily responsible, but it was much more than that, but it’s hard to explain. However, I’ll try.
As I contemplated the articulate and thoughtful comments from Janet, and then reflected back to my personal diatribe a year ago, it seemed that little has happened in the interim. Now, perhaps that isn’t the sense of others, but for me it seemed that I’d personally done little to move our thinking from the September, 2009 comments to the present. It felt like we’d made little progress, there had been minimal visible activity, nothing concrete to demonstrate substantive change.
And that seems to epitomize my life—or at least as I see it in days when my biorhythms (oh, oh, what am I getting into) are at a low ebb. If you’ve read my blogs in the past, if you’ve had the occasion to converse with me, you’ll likely find me an energetic, frenetic, passionate person, committed to leading exploration into new ideas. One potential problem, at least to some, is that I have no formal authority, no ability to mandate change in any one organization, and am “logistically challenged”—that is, in simple terms, operational details are not my strength.
Thus, in the words of a fellow colleague, there’s a lot of “circling” going on, and not much forward activity. That’s true to a point, but it’s here that I had my epiphany. For in reality, in the past year, we’ve seen great interest in shared decision making, initiation of many conversations, discussions of creating a common lexicon to support our efforts, engaging others in a large statewide collaborative, beginning to increase the awareness of this topic.
Coincidence is wonderful, and convergence of coincidences is often valuable. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read a book entitled Common Purpose by Joel Kurtzman. In it he talks about how great leaders get organizations to achieve the extraordinary– creating a feeling of “we” within an organization or team which enables an organization to tackle major challenges. In it he spoke to my heart, which of course engages me even more.
For in the book he speaks of not only the need for strategic, operational, and bridge-building skills, but the need for “thought leadership.” He is referring to the need for leaders to be constantly expanding their knowledge base, reading actively, exploring new ideas, and challenging their present set of assumptions and beliefs. This was my epiphany, and in some ways a validation.
In my unique role at ICSI, as Chief Knowledge Officer, I have been assigned the task of helping to explore new ideas, new information, and attempt to provide information on those to our members. While conceptually appealing, at times it appeared to be more of what I’d call a “fool’s errand.” At times humored by my compatriots, who often laughed at my tangential conversations regarding new ideas or thoughts from exotic sounding books, I began to wonder if this really was adding value. Or was it only enabling my infinitely inquisitive mind. It turns out that in some respects it’s both.
While we often focus on visible forward actions being demonstrated to show there’s movement, we need to spend significant time on evaluating and exploring new ideas, considering the intended and unintended consequences of implementing those ideas, hearing from a diverse, independent set of voices, and building on the collective wisdom available to us. (If you’ve read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, you’ll recognize the reference). I’m at times “logistically challenged” as I noted, but given the proper environment and a team committed to constantly seeking to improve, I see a role for myself.
So as Jan eloquently addresses shared decision making in her recent blog, and I reflect on the blog I wrote almost a year ago, it doesn’t represent a total lack of accomplishment. We are now able to move forward, with much yet to learn, precisely because the “thought leadership” and exploration of ideas has been a part of reaching a common purpose.
In fact, in today’s world of chaos, time constraints, and limited resources, perhaps this actually represents (un)common purpose—achieved in the face of significant challenges. That’s my epiphany, and that’s why I’ll keep exploring, reading, and sharing. Will you join me?