I read Atul Gawande’s Better: A Surgeon’s Notes On Performance last night. It’s written from a medical perspective, and talks about many of the things that are wrong with medical delivery today, but it is really about performance. I recommend it for anybody who cares about their own performance.
The book started as a series of essays, some of which I’ve read before. There are three sections, and each has a theme around improved performance.
Diligence is about how to do something well, and it boils down to just that: be diligent. Planning things, making sure the plan is complete, and executing the plan; washing your hands every time; tracking your own performance and being honest about failures.
Doing Right is about understanding what will improve your performance, and then actually doing it. The Right Thing isn’t always obvious, and deciding on right conduct can require serious soul searching. Having decided on the right thing, however, means accepting the obligation to do right.
Ingenuity is about metrics, of all things, and about finding good metrics and applying them to your work, and about finding innovative ways to improve performance.
In an afterword Gawande makes five Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant.
1. “Ask an unscripted question.” Ask about things that matter to the other person, and actually listen to the answer. This may make other people seem more like real people, and less like machines.
2. “Don’t complain. … It’s boring, it doesn’t solve anything, and it will get you down.”
3. “Count something. …be a scientist in the world.” Some metrics are better than others, but some metric is better than no metrics.
4. “Write something.” This is the same advice Cliff Stoll gives everybody. Publish something, somewhere, in the hope of contributing to a larger world.
5. “Change.” This doesn’t mean chasing every fad, it means recognizing that you are not doing everything you might as well as you might, and you need to try new solutions.
Despite being 250+ pages, I found it a very fast read. It is at times inspiring, at times disheartening and occasionally terrifying, but Better is well worth the read.