Pursuit of Simplicity – It is complicated

Continuing my marathon goal for this year, I could not resist this particular marathon that I ran yesterday  in the beautiful mid west town of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Following the running crazy town of Eugene last month, I shifted to football crazy town of Packer Land. Totally hit the- select races where Madhu is the only guy from the Indian sub continent, out of the ballpark. As soon as you enter the atrium of the storied Lambeau Field you can hear the stern voice of a Lombardi or feel the grit of the players who won the Ice Bowl. I knew I would not be able to view a football game from the field, in my lifetime, so a marathon that starts and ends at the stadium was the closest I could get to seeing the stage for the Lambeau leap (No I did not do the leap).

Most appropriate setting for starting a marathon in non perfect conditions. My allergies and on top of it heat and wind started to get so bad after the first hour that the organizers stopped the official race after ~2 hours.  At this time it was up to the participants to decide if they wanted to continue or get picked up by shuttle buses and shepherded back to the stadium.  I am sure in any other setting a majority of the folks would have picked the easy way out and got onto the bus – but when you are in Green Bay you do not take the easy way out. There were a bunch of us that were already at the 17th mile and no way we were going to stop as long as it was safe. Even though the organizers took out the water stations we had plenty of support from the residents of the town, who got out the water hoses to hose the runners passing by and provided drinking water, oranges and bananas to the few who battled on.  A favorite Lombardi quote came to mind when we were at the 17 mile decision point- “We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible. ” So how does this tie to the theme. It is all about simplicity. The decision process was pretty simple as it came down to it. Goal was to finish safely. Nothing else mattered.

Pardon the generalization but we tend to un-simplify things in life and work. One of my favorite quotable thinkers Confucius said ” Life is actually really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” I went to a catholic school during most of my school years – we had a navy blue shirt/tie/blue trousers uniform that all kids had to wear 5 days a week. I am sure made my mom’s life easier. Compare that to my struggle when it is my turn to get the girls ready here in the morning, their choices don’t gel with my choices and so much tension every morning. Would it not be simpler to have a uniform and spend that arguing time more productively. Many more examples in personal life where we tend to make things more complicated than necessary.

So why do we not make our lives simpler? Because it is complicated ;). Even though if you visit a Barnes & Noble or the Amazon book store – with so many books on de-stressing  life, you could be deceived that this is easy. In my prior write up I had spoken about the journey Kaiser Permanente will undertake on the “go digital” over the next several years. So how do we make this a successful transition. How do we take out the complexity of “being Kaiser”. How can we as Kaiser Permanente be talked about by Jeff Bezos in 2016 with the words “As Innovative as Kaiser”. I do not purport to know the answers but having been at KP, the need for agility is changing in the health care market place. The barriers for entry into the healthcare market are radically different now – in fact non existent – 5 guys in a garage with a great idea and a small credit card to use at amazon cloud can be up and running and beat the monoliths.  Another threat is the ability for non traditional health care companies to enter this space and gain advantage due to their size. Take a Walmart : not outside the realm of imagination that they will have micro clinics in each of the thousands of Walmarts in the near future. Why can they be successful – because they are trying to make the lives of their members simpler.

We as Kaiser Permanente cannot make the lives of our members simpler till we make the lives of our employees simpler. It flows down hill from there.

As we march towards the KP2020 vision , internal growth and innovation we will reach a tipping point. Adding the new healthcare reform to the equation I anticipate new layers of processes , controls and rules will continue to be added. We need to invest and constantly develop emergent practices and look into creative ways to solve current problems.

For now, we all can start these changes by doing a few  simple things.

Will these tactics help us?

  1. How can we make decisions based on our core values. We as a company have a very strong set of values. How can we use those to constantly interrogate ourselves to make decisions that simplify.  Yes, we are a consensus based organization but is it because we are not able to articulate the decision by basing it in our values. We can still leverage consensus but now it becomes all about the basis if the consensus that we all agree upon.
  2. Prioritization – just as in personal life, it is equally important to prioritize at work.  We constantly struggle with this at all levels of the company. Typical answer in the corporate world to challenges of Prioritization is : Governance. I think that is a over used weapon of choice. Be it priority of where to invest, what projects to fund, which training to select for employees and many more. In a connected world, I think that because I am multitasking I am more effective, but research proves this emphatically wrong. Can we as a company multitask effectively ? Several ways to tackle this but some of the more effective ways potentially are : start at the bottom and work upwards on what tools can we use to train our staff to prioritize, be vicious in “start – stop – continue” ( a phrase a colleague of mine coined), reward the culture of effective Prioritization.
  3. Capture the essence of what each group does as a rallying cry.  Make it simple.  Selfish plug here for IMG slogan of ” As easy as Amazon”.  As an employee in IMG work becomes that much more simpler : Anything that does not line up with that slogan does not need to be done.

Another Lombardi quote captures this well – “Success demands singleness of purpose”. That I think is the essence of simplification. How do you get to singleness of purpose in everything you do.  When the mind is so cluttered, it’s difficult to make progress, start from with in to change, to simplify and then work the without.

Lastly, work becomes mundane and much more complicated when we stop seeing things afresh. Break away, do your thing. Be sure to take all those breaks that you know are good for you, and don’t forget the much needed vacation times to rejuvenate.  Work won’t feel half as complex on your return.

It’s only when we simplify our lives as employees, we can help simplify the complications inherent in our processes.

As we look towards the future, we as a company have a strong foundation, based on core values with a loyal culture – it is a matter of reminding ourselves that we need to make our lives simpler, yes it is complicated.

With that let me wrap this blog entry and au revoir till the next marathon after a couple of months break.

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