How Too Many Professionals Think
by Stephanie Woodworth, Linda Christas Class of '14
Approximately a year ago, one of my Linda Christas instructors was speaking to me about how a person ought to think in business and the professions, and I became very caught up in the subject.
He was saying that most professionals think algorithmically or statistically. They are trained to use decision trees or depend on statistics to direct them into proven paths relative to addressing problems or challenges.
As a result, in about 70% of cases, they are absolutely correct. They move forward, apply proven methodologies, and are rewarded with well deserved praise and profit.
However, for about 30% of the challenges facing them they are either quite wrong, or choose methods or procedures that are less than ideal, sometimes dangerously so.
Algorithmic thinkers don't wait to hear the whole story before drawing conclusions or marching a long way toward decision. They ignore intuition, and spurn actions that aren't well within accepted practices.
Although I had understood the point my teacher was making, it wasn't really driven home to me until, about one month after the discussion with my instructor, my Mom started complaining of feeling tired all the time.
Of course, she went to our family doctor, and, in short order, he sent her to several specialists. However, six months later, she was worse.
Those physicians were being paid handsomely, and I know they were doing what they thought was their best, but they all seemed to think the same way, a way that was not getting to the root of whatever was ailing Mom.
Then, we happened to have a family move in next door, and, in speaking with the young man, Bob, the son of the home, he told me that his family's uncle was a doctor, a doctor who was reputed to think quite differently from most doctors. At least that's what he told me.
Of course, I immediately thought of the frustrating time my Mom was having trying to find out what was the source of her trouble, so I asked the young man to please call me when his uncle arrived for his scheduled visit in about a week's time.
When eight days later, the uncle visited, I made it a point to be there.
Naturally, I brought up my Mom's situation, and the uncle, now known as John, didn't ask a single question. He, instead, requested a visit with Mom.
I was delighted.
Mom was reluctant. She had seen so many physicians, perhaps a couple of dozen, and they all had come to similar conclusions, none of which were helping her.
However, she agreed, because of my enthusiasm.
A long story short, Dr. John spent about thirty minutes with Mom. In all that time, he mostly encouraged Mom to tell him her story in her own way.
At the end of the session, he did ask a few follow up questions that evidently no one else had.
Finally, he gave Mom a diagnosis that was 90 degrees away from that which the rest of the physicians had agreed was correct, and explained why other doctors might have missed it.
Dr. John explained that, "Doctors generally are taught to do diagnoses "scientifically." Their questions tend to, therefore, elicit symptoms much too early, thereby channeling the discussion. Most don't have the time to listen to a patient's story or at least they give the impression that they have no time to do that. I have ALWAYS found it to be a mistake to ask a patient what his or her physical symptoms are immediately.
A doctor needs to take the full patient in.
How is the patient sitting? What is the posture? What do the eyes tell you? The skin?
Then, I ask the patient to start at the beginning. When did he or she start feeling uncomfortable? What were the circumstances? And, all along I simply acknowledge what they are saying with, "I'm with you," or, "Yes, continue," and the like. If nothing else, I will sit with the patient for five minutes without saying anything, if that is what is required to allow the patient to relax with me.
Algorithmic or statistical thinking may be OK in some settings, but I noticed, especially when I was doing rounds in training, that we never got the patients' stories, and therefore, we missed lots of good information, and often lost the patients as well.
Without having the patient tell his or her story and without a doctor really listening to the story, including successes that the patient has noticed when doing certain kinds of things or eating certain kinds of foods, or being in certain kinds of environments; without that kind of information, one has little chance of reaching the proper conclusion with a large number of patients. I have found that clinic and HMO settings are particularly prone to assembly line medicine. That's why I would rather not practice medicine than subject my conscience to that sort of environment.
The great William Ostler said it best, "If you will listen to the patient's story, he will tell you what is wrong with him." "
My Mom improved starting immediately after the visit with Dr. John, and within a month, she was restored to full health.
Since then, I have noticed, on several occasions, people pigeonholing problems or situations. They invariably draw conclusions or aim toward opinions that may be correct or may be very far from the truth relative to what the full situation is.
Most businessmen are that way, I've noticed, during the summer jobs I've had. There are business theories that work most of the time. But, if a businessman is interested in more than just a 70% average in terms of diagnosing problems correctly, he or she needs to listen to the whole story, removing preconceived notions from the picture.
Only in that way will he truly be able to manage a business better than the rest of the pack.
Unfortunately, most schools are planned using a statistical or algorithmic method as well.
Somewhere, a one-size-fits-all curriculum is designed without asking for the individual student's story. Teachers don't know the aptitudes, interests, subject skill levels, learning styles, or maturity levels of their individual students.
Imposing a pre-planned curriculum on a student without knowing who the student is is going to miss the point more often than not.
Woodrow Wilson was very candid when he said that public schools in America are there to produce primarily followers. Wilson said that our leaders decide how to do that, and like good little citizens, most kids just sit in rows and learn how to behave.
For the ruling class, there are other experiences, experiences much more tuned to the individual. From those personalized situations, tutors, and mentors, leaders emerge.
It has been that way from Marcus Aurelius to George Washington. When the student is valued, instruction is always personalized. When a student is not valued very much, he or she is thrown into a crowd and taught to behave.
Albert Einstein said that the sort of schools that Germans and Americans prefer nearly killed his love of learning completely. He had to take a full year away from anything remotely like learning after his school experience, before he was recovered sufficiently to think kindly of the academic life again.
Happily, Einstein did recover. Later, he was happy that in his position at Princeton, he didn't have to force students to buy textbooks and absorb what for most would be meaningless material.
In other words, for the children we have designated as future leaders, we do not treat them algorithmically. We listen to their stories, to their personhoods, and design curricula which respond to their individual hearts and souls.
It seems to me that everyone has a story to tell. It seems to me that, whether rich or poor, everyone should have a shot at the top.
Linda Christas Academy and College understands that.
And, my Mom? She is still flourishing. It is just like it used to be before she became ill, thanks to a doctor who was trained to listen to each person's story before daring to form an opinion.