Finding inspiration in the mastery of others

While mastery in one area isn’t necessarily transferable to another, experts in different fields can quite effectively share their expertise to help each improve. The story A Hospital Races to Learn Lessons of Ferrari Pit Stop (subscription required) in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal tells the story of how surgeons at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children adapted pit crew procedures to reduce complications during the ‘hand-off’ phase of surgery and how other hospitals are looking at similar ways to improve operations (and thereby reduce complications).

While most people focus on the big mistakes that obviously lead to bad outcome, those are the easy mistakes to see and fix. What the hospital had realized was that the small mistakes often went unnoticed and unrectified, leading to a strong correlation with bad outcomes. What they didn’t know how to do was fix the problem.

Until, that is, two doctors watching a Formula One event saw a similarity in what happened in the pits and what happened during a patient handoff. They realized that someone had already solved the problem they had discovered for themselves, and that they could adapt that solution for their own purposes. Fortunately, the doctors and their colleagues don’t believe in the “not invented here” syndrome, and greatly improved the care they provide their patients.

That last point is a key one in thinking about mastery, especially when you reach a certain level of achievement. It is all too easy for anyone at an elite level of achievement to believe, and act as if, is nothing they need to learn from anyone else. Sometimes, though, to break through the inevitable wall and leave the plateau, you need to reinvent yourself, even if that means admitting to others that you need the help.