Lessons Learned Case #1

Just because a story is from a different industry doesn't mean you can't apply it to yours

Author/contributor: Art Murray

Applicable to: Business; Life in general


Story: I was leading a workshop on knowledge management for a group of medical doctors from the public health sector. I told them the story of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, an eye surgeon who was frustrated over the high cost of manufacturing and surgically implanting intraocular lenses (IOLs) in India. Tens of thousands of people were needlessly going blind every year. On a trip to the US he became fascinated with McDonald’s, and how remarkably efficient their whole process was. He took this idea back home and began manufacturing IOLs locally at a small fraction of the going price. As a result, many hundreds of thousands of people have had their eyesight restored.

I was astonished when some of the doctors in the audience objected saying, “That’s not a good example to use, because McDonalds sells junk food with trans-fats, which goes against our goal of promoting health.” They couldn’t see that the main point was the process that was being adapted to solve a problem. It had nothing to do with unhealthy food.

Setting (situational context):
  • Date and time: Fall 2005
  • People and their roles: Art Murray facilitating a knowledge management workshop for a group of medical doctors in the public health sector
  • Place: Washington, DC USA
Problem (symptoms/observations, why it’s a problem and the impact if not solved): Trying to get an organization to look beyond its own boundaries for ideas.

Goal (challenge): Overcoming the belief that one’s area of expertise is so highly specialized that nothing outside their field is relevant.

Root cause (of the problem/challenge and how it was determined): Deep-rooted beliefs and habits.

Solution (action taken and how it came about): showed a video of a success story from a different discipline.

Outcome (the end result and its impact): initially, the attempt at knowledge transfer didn’t work because the video illustrated a process from an organization (McDonald's) that ran counter to the audience’s culture.

Analysis (what worked and why, what didn’t work and why):

Cautions/warnings: before introducing a new idea from a different domain or discipline, be sure to “prep” the audience in a way that helps them think outside their own boundaries. Tell them beforehand that what they are about to see may at first seem totally unrelated, and challenge them to “stretch” their imagination to see how, by making some adjustments, the solution can be applied to their own situation.

Lesson (moral of the story, guidelines, rules, recommendations): Don’t dismiss something outright just because it doesn’t fit your world view. Part of it might hold the key to solving the problem you’re facing.

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