Change Your Career by Changing Your Perspective

Check out an excerpt from the transcript for The Social Capitalist interview featuring Bill Taylor. Please access the audio recording here. Click here for the full transcript: Social Capitalist Transcript – William Taylor. Enjoy!

TAHL RAZ:     So let’s get in to, I mean it is possibly the hardest thing to do and let’s get into the mechanics of why it’s hard and some of the tactics that you used to overcome it.  One of the hardest parts of change is figuring out how to make sure that what you know and how you do things today doesn’t limit what you can imagine tomorrow might be like.  One way that problem is overcome, you write, is with the skill called vuja de.  What is that?

WILLIAM TAYLOR:    First of all, full confession and I say that I stole the language from the late great George Carlin, the comedian who in his standup act in Las Vegas of the 70s is probably under the heavy influence of LSD.  He used to to come out of the audience and say, I’m experiencing a sense of vuja de and everybody is laughing like they know what’s he’s talking about.  What he explained, I think he’s rolling over his grave that I’m using as a management pundits but –

TAHL RAZ:     Yes,

WILLIAM TAYLOR:    What he meant to say is, you know, we all know déjà vu and you know, you walk into a room and you feel like you’ve been there before, the unfamiliar seems strangely familiar.  Vuja de is the opposite of that.  Can you look at an industry you’ve been in for 20 years?  Can you look at a company you’ve been in for a decade?  Can you look at a set of customers you’ve been working in and been working on for years and years?  And somehow, look at them as if you’ve never seen them before.  And with that new line of sight, develop a whole new point of view about the future.  I mean what are the, what are the challenges of trying to make change in an industry or in a company or in a setting you’ve been part of for a long time is you just have so much expertise.  And obviously, that’s a great, great thing.  Who would argue against expertise?  But the challenge and almost the kind of unknowing challenge for a lot of people is not to let that expertise get in the way of innovation.  As you said, not to let what you know limit what you can imagine about new services you can offer, new ways you can engage your customers, new strategies you can embrace to achieve what you want to achieve.  And it really is so hard for people who’ve been in organizations, particularly, reasonably success.  I mean if you’re in deep crisis, and you know, you’ve got a near-death organizational experience, I think a lot of stuff can get shaken up.  But when you’re in an organization that’s basically doing okay but you kind of feel deep inside we could be doing so much better, be so much more relevant, so much more effective, it’s hard to overcome the kind of tunnel vision that expertise often imposes upon us without us even knowing it.

TAHL RAZ:     Well, I mean it’s incredibly profound thought that what you see shaped how you changed.  But I mean either with an example or you know give us some flesh so that, you know, if someone were to actually contemplate how they would build this into the design of their own work life, how they might go about it?

WILLIAM TAYLOR:    Sure.  Well, I think one of the key things is to work hard to look far outside your own company.  And even more importantly, your own field or industry for new ideas and techniques and strategies that might be kind of routine somewhere else but when you migrate them into your company, they can seem really, really revolutionary.  I’ll try to do this really quick but I – so there’s a hospital in Seattle, the Virginia Mason Medical Center.  And it’s a traditional, big honking downtown urban hospital, so you know 5,000 employees, 600 docs, more than a thousand beds and a guy named Dr. Gary Kaplan took over 10 years ago.  And Virginia Mason was kind of what I described.  It was doing fine.  It wasn’t about to go out of business next week or anything like that, but it wasn’t anything to be super proud of, you know, in other words, it was just another big city hospital.  And Kaplan and his colleagues said, “We really want to do something more than that.”  But what they quickly realized is they weren’t going to get very far comparing themselves against or studying other hospitals.  You know the fact of the matter is the healthcare and hospital industry in the United States, when it comes to strategy management, treating patients right is really a pretty mediocre business.  And they asked themselves 10 years ago, “What is the greatest organization in the world when it comes to quality, efficiency, moving things quickly, being smart, being productive?”  And of course, they concluded it was Toyota.  So they immediately, ferociously went to school on the Toyota production system.  And he was sending groups of 20 Virginia Mason employees at a time: doctors, nurses, orderlies, account receivable clerks, frontline people, whatever.  Groups of teams of 20 over to the Japan and they would stay there for two weeks and they would study in the classroom and they would get lectures from all the masters at Toyota.  And then they would spend a week working on the factory floor, building cars, building components, pulling the red levers when there was a problem, solving problems on the spot kind of deal.  And they did this for like two and a half years, something like 500 people and he got completely roasted by the Seattle press by the way saying you know, “This hospital’s barely breaking even.  What the hell is this Kaplan doing sending all these people on trips to Japan?”  But getting hundreds of people from this hospital outside of their normal comfort zone and conventional wisdom and seeing how the greatest organization in the world with respect to quality and efficiency did things and really transform how Virginia Mason organized itself.  And so they revolutionized how the hospital was organized.  They cut by 85 percent the amount of time it goes from when you draw blood to when you get your lab results.  The nurses changed how they do their jobs.  They used to spend 35 percent of their time with the patients’ bedside, now they spend 90 percent of their time.  And I’m – but listen, here’s the most important part why I’m racing to this story.  I had a fun conversation with a guy named Dr. Robert Mecklenburg, Chief of Medicine for Virginia Mason.  And early on, he didn’t want to go to Japan.  He’s a, you know, typical surgeon.  His hands save lives.  How can I go, you know, turn a wrench out on assembly line?  What if I break a knuckle or something like that?  But eventually, he went.  And because he was a big cheese at Virginia Mason, he had to go with a – at a current project kind of in his back pocket.  So his project was, “Could they reorganize some of the stuff on the campus to make room for two new operating rooms without having to add a new wing or a new building, whatever?”  And he would work every night after the normal day with the Sensei, the Toyota Quality Master, the expert of experts kind of deal.  And he tells a story about how he unfurls the blueprints for Virginia Mason and he in the sense there kind of look in through the blueprints and so on.  And the Sensei who is very facile in English sees a room on the blueprints and it says, “Waiting Room”.  And of course at Toyota, nobody waits everything.  Everything is just in time.  And he says to Mecklenburg, “Doctor, what is this thing, the Waiting Room?”  And Mecklenburg says, “Well, that’s where patients come and they’re waiting to see the doctor or whatever and they’ll wait for their appointment.”  And the Sensei says, “Really?  And how long do they wait on average?”  And Mecklenburg says, “You know, 45 minutes, let’s say.”  And the Sensei says, “Really?”  And he’s looking at the blueprint and he says, “Is this the only Waiting Room on the Virginia Mason campus?”  And Mecklenburg not thinking of it says, “Oh, no, no, no.  Look, we got lot of buildings.  We got lots of office complexes.  It’s a big campus.  I’d say there’s probably a hundred waiting rooms on the hospital campus.”  And he sensed the Sensei at that point stands up and he sees the blood kind of draining from his face.  He says, “I just want to understand this.  What you’re telling me is that there are a hundred rooms on your hospital campus and people come there and they’re sick and they’re worried and their families are anxious for them and it’s routine for them to wait 45 minutes on average to see a doctor?”  And Mecklenburg not thinking of it again but says, “Yes, that sounds about right.”  And he said the Sensei looks down him and says, “Aren’t you ashamed?”  And Mecklenburg says for the first time in his life because throughout his entire career, he’d always seen the world from his eyes out.  And, “Hey, I’m the doctor.  And I’m the one who suffered through all day, all night who’s at med school and I’m the one who’s hand-saved lives.  And of course, people wait for me.”  But he took an encounter with somebody who was completely outside of his industry, somebody who saw the world with a very different set of eyes to realize he got this whole thing backwards.  And as you can imagine, Mecklenburg went back to Seattle and he was the man on the mission and he really led the program to try to get to zero waiting time on the Virginia Mason campus.  You know between Internet reservation systems and e-mail and text messages and in Tweeting now, people are unlikely – you can go out to your customers and say to your patients and say, “Hey, you know, show up 10 to 15 minutes late.  We’re running behind kind of dealing.”  To me, that was just a very personal, very moving story of what happened to someone who is truly world-class in their field and yet can’t see obvious opportunities for dramatic change that are hidden in plain sight because their expertise blocks how they make sense of the world.  You know it’s a little story about what happens when you take an organization or group of leaders and let them see the world through a very different set of eyes.

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