Humans are odd. So long as we have existed as a species, we have found things over which we can disagree.
Being odd, where things have really mattered, and at times we have been faced with threats of the extinction of our species, we have found ways to agree.
For example, the clear majority of us would agree that we would rather not be wiped out by nuclear war or die from a bioengineered pandemic.
Disagreements are important. They drive debate and productive conversation. They force us to challenge our assumptions about the world in which we live. But the contents of our conversations – the words we choose to use, or not use, have the capacity to either create or destroy.
Enter ‘bridges’. For the trivia geeks, you may know that the oldest datable bridge in the world, which is still in use today, is the slab-stone single-arch bridge over the river Meles in Izmir, Turkey. This bridge dates back from c. 850 BC. Bridges are important historical structures, and are an apt metaphor for connections.
According to Wikipedia, a bridge is “a structure built to span physical obstacles without closing the way underneath… for providing passage over the obstacle.” Note the significance of this statement. There is a path over a bridge, AND there is a path under a bridge. Ray Dalio, author of the book ‘Principles: Life and Work’, states that success is achieved by designing plans that will get you ‘around’ problems.
Why is this significant? To arrive at success, we must identify and not tolerate problems that stand in the way. We must accurately diagnose problems to get at a root cause. However, not all problems need to be solved and not all weaknesses need to be addressed. What matters is finding a principled way to arrive at an outcome.
How does this relate to health care? You ask. And where does BridgeBuilders fit in? You would think that we, as a species, value our health, and the ability to live a wholesome and fulfilling life, as much as we value not being wiped out by natural or man-made disasters. You would be right in saying this. We might disagree on minor points, but our ideas of what defines quality of life are mostly consistent.
However, we are products of our individual experiences. Whilst me may agree on where we need to go, we often disagree on the way in which we should get there.
Our leaders are not immune to this. Despite their greatest intentions, the noble objectives of our health care leaders can conflict with the inherent intricacies and constraints of systems, policies and processes. And because we are better at communicating our processes than we are our vision and values, we send out a discordant, confused message that hinders progress towards important outcomes. The result is silos and fragmented systems, and failed implementation of seemingly well-intended projects.
The actions of our leaders can frustrate us when they seem to be inconsistent with our own value systems. However, they are often a reflection of the system that they must work within. According to Deming, “a bad system will beat a good person every time.”
BridgeBuilders assumes that there is always a better way, and that through strategic conversation and a willingness to work together, we might discover it. We may need to swim under the bridge or drive over it. We may even decide that we are crossing the wrong bridge and need to take some steps back. What matters, is that we figure this out together and walk together in unity.
I’ll leave you with a thought. If you were to build a bridge with one person today, who would it be? And how are you going to do it? Perhaps it’s time to get building. Come on, I dare you!