➻ Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, had a great piece in The New Yorker about Big Med, wondering if “Restaurant chains have managed to combine quality control, cost control, and innovation. Can health care?” This question came to him after dining out with his children at a Cheesecake Factory that left them all completely satisfied, with options ranging from beet and goat cheese salads to Hawaiian pizza.
I wondered how they pulled it off. I asked one of the Cheesecake Factory line cooks how much of the food was premade. He told me that everything’s pretty much made from scratch—except the cheesecake, which actually is from a cheesecake factory, in Calabasas, California.
I’d come from the hospital that day. In medicine, too, we are trying to deliver a range of services to millions of people at a reasonable cost and with a consistent level of quality. Unlike the Cheesecake Factory, we haven’t figured out how. Our costs are soaring, the service is typically mediocre, and the quality is unreliable. Every clinician has his or her own way of doing things, and the rates of failure and complication (not to mention the costs) for a given service routinely vary by a factor of two or three, even within the same hospital.
It’s easy to mock places like the Cheesecake Factory—restaurants that have brought chain production to complicated sit-down meals. But the “casual dining sector,” as it is known, plays a central role in the ecosystem of eating, providing three-course, fork-and-knife restaurant meals that most people across the country couldn’t previously find or afford. The ideas start out in élite, upscale restaurants in major cities. You could think of them as research restaurants, akin to research hospitals. Some of their enthusiasms—miso salmon, Chianti-braised short ribs, flourless chocolate espresso cake—spread to other high-end restaurants. Then the casual-dining chains reëngineer them for affordable delivery to millions. Does health care need something like this?
It’s a long read, but a fascinating juxtaposition, and very worth the time.
➻ The Peer-Reviewed By My Neurons blog recently looked at two studies in the Journal of Economic Psychology to explore Why It’s Important For People to Know Experiences Are Better Than Possessions. It turns out it’s important not just to our level of personal happiness, but affects how well we manage our finances, as well:
The tendency for experiences to create more happiness than material possessions is one scientific finding that’s recently received a lot of attention. While most media coverage about the joy of experiences has focused on the abstract question of how to be happy, evidence is building that beliefs about materialism and happiness can also have concrete implications for a person’s day-to-day to life. For example, two recent studies have found a connection between materialism and poor money management. This means that convincing people material possessions aren’t the key to happiness won’t simply help them spend their Christmas bonus more wisely, it may also lead to better overall financial management.
I have a feeling that the Cheesecake Factory can help out here somehow, as well. Of course, being from Wisconsin, I tend to equate any experience involving a form of cheese as a possible solution to all of life’s problems.
➻ Bill Taylor weighed in on another important lesson recently in the Harvard Business Review: It’s More Important to Be Kind than Clever. Relating a touching story from Adweek about How a Fan Post on Panera’s Facebook Page Got Half a Million Likes after a simple act of kindness for a woman with cancer, Taylor talks about the lesson marketers and businesspeople should be taking away from it all.
Marketing types have latched on to this story as an example of the power of social media and “virtual word-of-mouth” to boost a company’s reputation. But I see the reaction to Sue Fortier’s gesture as an example of something else—the hunger among customers, employees, and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being reshaped by the relentless advance of technology, what stands out are acts of compassion and connection that remind us what it means to be human.
Media has always worked best when we feel there is a human touch rather than a ghost in the machine. Social media amplifies that tendency. When a story originates from an authentic human connection rather than a marketing campaign, we can usually tell—and we usually respond.
➻ Which brings us to our next issue, Art and Manipulation, and Shawn Coyne’s reaction to Nick Carr’s article in The Times about Journalists Dancing on the Edge of Truth. Well, he didn’t so much react to Carr’s piece as much as he used it as a jumping off point to critique modern media values, the now seemingly standard practice of placing profit over the public interest, and the creeping commoditization of, well, everything—but he made some great points on his way there:
To Carr, misrepresenting, fabricating, or stealing other people’s words and ideas is as fundamental a transgression as THOU SHALT NOT KILL. Carr’s probably not a sweet and a hugely talented guy, but veracity and full disclosure is his code. It’s a damn important code shared by, I fear, fewer and fewer of his colleagues in the journalism “business.”
Everything wasn’t always a “business.” We didn’t always look at the world in terms of return on investment, quarterly profits, or net worth. We didn’t follow Presidential elections based on how much money a candidate raises per month or define the American dream based purely on the pursuit of Ayn Randian self-interest.
We admired people for what they did. Not how much money they made.
As a boy, I remember passing an overly serious lady in the street and making some smart aleck remark. My mother spun me around, grabbed my shoulders and with fury in her eyes said, That woman has the most important job in the world . . . She’s a teacher!
There used to be something called the “public interest.” And it wasn’t all that long ago. The Federal Communications Commission used to require television networks to devote a certain number of hours of programming per month that discuss “public issues, serve minority interests and eliminate superfluous advertising.”
And, man, he was only getting warmed up. If you’re picking up what he’s putting down, or happen to love James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News, you’ll want to continue reading.
➻ Of course, maybe “It is already too late, and it will go on being even later.”
➻ And then again, maybe it’s just stuck in the Metronomic Underground.