Hard To Be Easy

I have a button on my softboard.  It says: It’s easy to be hard; It’s hard to be easy.  And, it serves as a constant reminder of the truth that, ever so often, we needlessly complicate matters.

A long-pending visit to the iSixSigma blog turned up an interesting post by Andrew Downard on this very subject:

I was recently perusing Time magazines “Top 100” list for 2008, and came across this entry for Peter Pronovost. I had never heard of Pronovost. Here’s part of what profiler Kathleen Kingsbury had to say about him:

“A critical-care researcher at Johns Hopkins University, Pronovost may have saved more lives than any laboratory scientist in the past decade by relying on a wonderfully simple tool…”

… after implementing it in hospital ICUs in Michigan, hospital-acquired infections dropped from 2.7 per 1,000 patients to zero. That means more than 1,500 lives were saved in the first 18 months.

So what is this ingenious invention? What critical breakthrough occurred? What fancy bit of science and statistics produced these stupendous results? Which process improvement methodology was put to work?

A checklist.

That’s right, Pronovost provided physicians with a list of steps as a reminding them how to complete routine procedures. 1500 lives were saved over 18 months in one state by writing down the steps for procedures, photocopying them, and handing them out.

Can you imagine the simplicity and elegance of that idea?

In our line of work, or daily life, we often encounter examples of simplicity in thought and action.  But, gloss over them.  The stuff that gets rewarded or acknowledged widely is the more glamourous and the complex stuff, right?

Downard adds:

I wonder to myself how on earth we’ve allowed the continuous improvement world to become so complex and unapproachable…

Have we taken a wrong turn?

I couldn’t agree more.

Life and Death

MetroDad posed an intriguing question.  The context was provided by an episode on TV in which the character gets the opportunity to make a significant decision about Life… and Death…

The doctors eventually realize that the patient cannot be cured and will soon die. The boyfriend is given the choice whether to let her die peacefully in her sleep or to have her awakened so that they can say goodbye to one another and he can tell her about her impending death. This being television, he naturally chooses to have her woken up. They lie together on the hospital bed for a few hours, tell each other how much they love one another, and then she naturally slips into a coma and dies.

I posed this hypothetical to the BossLady and she didn’t hesitate either. After thinking about if for a brief millisecond, she told me that she wouldn’t want to be woken up either.

Me? I thought there was something romantic about it. I would want to be woken up. I could tell my wife and daughter how much I loved them. I could offer them my last lessons on life. Also, I think it would help provide closure for everyone and maybe make their suffering a little less painful.

… Andrew thinks I’m a romantic idiot and that the idea of being woken up, only to be told that you were about to die, is morbidly disturbing. He thinks if we asked 100 people, 99 would not want to be woken up.

Would you want to be woken up from a coma so that you could say your goodbyes and be told that you have only hours to live?

Personally, I found it more interesting to answer the question for myself.  Statistics of percentages would matter less.

I think the answer would depend on how one has lived.

I try to live each day… each moment… as if it were my last.  I’ve already said “I love you” to my wife and kids, and do it again every day.  I don’t hate any one, and wouldn’t want to waste my last few breaths on such folks anyway.  I don’t think I’ll come up with any last-minute sensational modifications to how I’d like my ashes scattered.  So, I guess, the only reason left would be for closure for others’ benefit… 

So, for me, I think it’ll come down to what the wife would want more.  I’d be at peace, either way.

Recommended Reading:
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Cover Story

Once again, Seth Godin’s recent blog post offers good advice on a topic close to my heart – How to read a business book!  In it, Godin expounds his thoughts on how a business book is different from most other categories of books, and hence, needs to be handled differently…

There’s a huge gap between most how-to books (cookbooks, gardening, magic, etc.) and business books, though. The gap is motivation. Gardening books don’t push you to actually do something. Cookbooks don’t spend a lot of time trying to sell you on why making a roast chicken isn’t as risky as you might think.

The stakes are a lot higher when it comes to business…. The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.

Computer books, of course, are nothing but bullet points. Programmers get amazing value because for $30 they are presented with everything they need to program a certain tool. Yet most programmers are not world class, precisely because the bullet points aren’t enough to get them to see things the way the author does, and not enough to get them motivated enough to actually program great code.

Godin also offers some pointers that will help you make the most of your experience with business books:

Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a postit or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it… Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, “are we there yet?”

Tim Sanders also writes about this subject in his book – Love is the Killer App – where he describes his strategy of “cliffing” over several pages, to those willing to learn from it.  800CEORead.com adds to Godin’s post by way of pointers like “Don’t skip the Introduction”, and “Don’t pick and choose parts of the recipe”.

Me? I always buy my own copy, and extensively follow my own variation of cliffing to help retain the key points in the context in which I first encountered them.  I also make an active effort to understand how what I just read applies to an earlier piece of work, and to my work life in general.  Thereon, I try to implement some of the learnings, as best as possible, in my sphere of work.

The most important learning here?  Reading business books is a different kinda ballgame.  If you’re serious about learning from these writings, you’ll need to review your approach towards it.  If all you want is to act informed, head to your favourite “Business Book Summaries” website today!

Q Tube!

As someone who manages a team of Black Belts and Green Belts in Six Sigma, I am often asked to help clarify concepts in the methodology, by my team members.  While the original Training material does help, I often Google the web for easier, simpler explanations of fundamentals, for the benefit of the team as well as my self.

Articles and posts on iSixSigma.com have helped a great deal in that pursuit.  As have other sources of information like Minitab.com.  But, more recently, I was pleasantly suprised to find two new applications of Technology that have opened up fresh new avenues of information on this subject!

One of them – YouTube – is a name we may all be familiar with.  As much as I’ve enjoyed watching entertaining videos and speeches on YouTube, I did not easily make the connection that this piece of technology can just as easily be applied to providing instructional videos on the fundamentals of Six Sigma!  Keith Bower does just that on KeithBower.com.  From his website, you can access a wide variety of video and audio podcasts on topics ranging from “Moving Range Charts” to “Practical Advice for DoE”.  I’ve gone through some of the podcasts and can vouch for their brilliant coverage of concepts in a manner that can be understood by almost any one.

Another recent discovery, thanks to a BPM newsletter of Steve Towers, was SlideShare.net.  Here, I found a way for authors (content creators, really) to share their powerpoint slides (embedded with audio/video) with an audience across the world, in an effortless manner!  In fact, you can create your own webinar in just a few clicks.  The site offers a rich repository of content on all kinds of subjects from Obama to Six Sigma, with an option to download the content, if the author chose to offer that option to you.

Head to these sources today, and you may just find yourself spending more time than you’d planned to!

Keith Bower’s podcasts | Quality on SlideShare.net

My Top 10 for WM6

I use a lot of Technology and enjoy putting it to work, be it personal computers, digital cameras, mobile phones or music players. In doing so, I have tested a variety of mobile phones from the very basic ones to the PocketPC/Smartphone variety, having used more than 30 different models first hand. 

Each time I have bought any gadget, it has been preceded by countless manhours spent researching the entire category, reviewing every little nuance of its feature-set, build quality, usability, etc.  I have also benefitted significantly from the advice available on discussion forums, on a wide range of known software/hardware issues.  And, of course, the Internet has helped immensely in that regard.  So, this post is me giving back to the community in an effort to help others…


A few weeks ago, I bought a Window Mobile 6.0 PocketPC device (HTC P3400i).  While it offered an excellent platform for a handheld mobile phone, I also noticed that the underlying OS could do with a few enhancements.  The beauty of a Windows-based phone was, of course, that new software was just a few clicks away.

What followed is a significant amount of time researching how to make it more user-friendly.  In the process, I ended up downloading a number of freeware programs, trying them out, and eventually keeping some installed that addressed a number of the limitations built into the WM 6.0 platform. 

Thanks to that experience, I now have a list of the my “My Top 10” freeware apps for WM 6.0 that have simply changed what my PocketPC device can do… Not quite an iPhone but imminently more usable than the boxed version I bought!

Here’s the full list:

  • ContactChanger – Changes display of Outlook contacts to ‘First Last’
  • GroupSMS – Allows selecting multiple SMS recipients without effort
  • MagicButton – The TaskManager you need with a SmartClose feature
  • PCM Keyboard – Finger-friendly keyboard with ample error-correction
  • PocketCM Contact – iPhone-style contact manager with SMS threads
  • S2P – Finger-friendly iPhone-style MP3 player for your phone
  • SKToolsLite – A system utility to free up RAM, modify registry, etc.
  • VistaHide Battery Guage – A very discreet always-on Battery Meter (see the thin coloured line at the top?)
  • XnView Pocket – User-friendly Image Viewer with easy slideshow options
  • WorldMatePro – A traveller’s best friend with a lot of free utilities built-in

Bonus: Kevtris – The only Tetris game you’ll ever need!

I have refrained from mentioning version numbers, as the creators of these apps keep rolling out newer versions.  You should, in any case, be downloading the latest build available online.  Most of this is available on popular websites like FreewarePocketPC.net and merely a Google search away.  Enjoy!