Getting Better at Work (A Review of Atul Gawande’s Book “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance”)

Getting Better at Work Image

When I’m not at work, I read a lot of stuff directly related to my work. This includes lots of books on instructional design, training, learning and development, and performance improvement. And it includes books on safety and safety management. And on manufacturing, maintenance, and reliability.

Sometimes, though, I like to kick back and read something different. I even retreat into the pure escapism of a novel sometime (most recent novel, as of October 31, 2018: The Song of Achilles). But ignoring the occasional novel, even if a book I’m reading isn’t directly related to my work, it’s often indirectly related. And that’s the case with a book I just finished: Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande.

Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. In short, he’s a bright and impressive guy, and one worth paying attention to.

In his book Better, Gawande evaluates some of his own experiences to see how doctors and other medical professionals can get better at what they do. Although the examples are specific to the medical field, they are lessons we can all apply to our careers, or to other parts of our lives.

Gawande’s book presents a series of stories ordered into three groups. Each grouping reflects what Gawande believes to be a core requirement for success in medicine or any field. The three core requirements are:

  • Diligence, which he defines as “the necessity of giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles”
  • Doing right, which he believes is the never-ending struggle to address human failures and shortcomings
  • Ingenuity, which he defines as “thinking anew”

You can easily see how these three requirements easily translate to any type of work. If you’re a lifelong learner who has learned to learn, this probably rings true to you.

If you want a thought-provoking read that may well give you some tools to improve your own workplace, it’s worth checking this book out. You’ll get some interesting perspective into the world of medicine, for sure. But in addition, you’ll get to spend time with an honest, self-critical, and insightful mind. Plus, Gawande’s a wonderful writer (a reviewer included in the blurbs on the first pages, himself a famous writer, says that “If I practiced medicine one-tenth as well as Gawande writes, I would seriously consider opening a little medical practice on the side”).

While you’re at it, you may also like another book by Gawande–The Checklist Manifesto. We reviewed that book too, and in a little more detail, because the checklist idea is so useful in the workplace.

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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