Building a Mindset of Being Better

Psychiatrist Richard Bear treated a multiple personality disorder patient named Karen for 15 years.  During her final session, she described the product he delivered as “a safety blanket” that kept her from killing herself. Such intensive therapy with an often suicidal client may be beyond the scope of what other industries call a customer service 'outcome'. Yet, the salient point is that Karen came to embody her therapist’s presence in her life as something made real. Steve Jobs led Apple for the better part of 30 years.  Jobs consistently promised and produced more and better technological devices, without looking backwards or worrying that there might not be 'enough' (technology, demand, disposable income) for his next big thing.  Capitalizing on the Internet’s reach and countless individuals with a knack for developing apps, Jobs’ devices tap lifestyle needs for connection and upgrades.

What enables some service providers like Bear to transform process, technique and hope into a tangible product?  And what enables a producer of consumer goods like Jobs to enhance the flow of information in such a way that the tangible devices are an expression of the consumers’ value for intangibles such as curiosity, connection, and cool?

Aside from talent, my guess is that both share a commitment to building something, something ambitious, despite forces that might tear it down.  There’s a fierceness and a fearlessness to that.  But moreover, there is no room for scarcity.  You can’t provide a safety blanket if your efforts are limited to a 50 minute therapy session.  And you probably won’t outpace your competitors if your smart phones cut corners and leave customers looking elsewhere.

The healthcare industry has its share of inspiring leaders too.

In his essay “The Bell Curve,” Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande explored what makes some hospitals and doctors more successful than others.  He visited the Minnesota Cystic Fibrosis Center, amongst the best in clinics treating this condition .  What he found when observing Dr. Warwick, the Center’s director of 40 years, was “intense drive and constant experimenting.

Gawande reports that Warwick “believed that excellence came from seeing, on a daily basis, the difference between being 99.5-per-cent successful and being 99.95-per-cent successful.”  No scarcity of consistency or ingenuity allowed.  Gawande extrapolates,  “Many activities are like that, of course: catching fly balls, manufacturing microchips, delivering overnight packages.”

All of us have to deal with bottom lines and deadlines, where scarcity (in terms of time/ money) is real enough.  But those who push to be the best stay relentlessly focused, never doubting that they are sufficiently empowered to build something that will last.