Collective greatness

I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from the creative fields in recent months. This week it’s been film.

I watched the HBO Spielberg documentary last night. Anybody who knows me well knows how much I love pop culture. Movies are a big part of this. Obviously. Lately it’s been more kids movies than I’d like to admit. I have a tendency to fall asleep around two thirds of the way in for anything of substance. But nonetheless, I love movies and this is an awesome documentary to watch about one of the greats.

One of the things I didn’t know about was how Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma and Martin Scorsese all used to hang out with one another in the late 70s/80s. They were known as the Movie Brats.

One of the questions this raises for me, is this because they were all superstars that just happened to have aligned career paths, or was there some sort of synergy happening?

I think it was the latter. Yes, obviously they were all talented enough to make it past the threshold and get through the door. But they pushed each other toward success. They challenged each other. Disagreed. Celebrated successes. Learned from failures. Shared generously. All in the pursuit of making good art.

Not only did they make good art (and continue to) but they changed the movie industry forever They ushered old Hollywood into the new world, and introduced the world to new cinematic experiences.

Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if they all kept to their individual ivory towers. There wouldn’t have been the prologue in Star Wars for one thing. Indiana Jones wouldn’t have happened either.

There is power in people who come together with a shared sense of purpose. And it doesn’t have to be confined to the creative fields.

Elegant healthcare

Earlier in my career I had a very strong pull toward efficiency. I have never liked ‘flappers’. Those people who spend the day running around telling everybody how busy they are. Continuing to work after hours and wearing it as a badge of honour. In my mind that always reflected poor planning. A lack of ability to manage their time. I placed greater value on colleagues who could achieve their outcomes and still manage to have a lunch break and leave on time. Or if they stayed late it was because of a last minute request that they were taking responsibility for.

As I’ve gained more life experience (I’d say matured, but I’m not ready for that yet) I’ve continued to value efficiency, but I’ve begun to understand that there’s more to it than that. Efficiency alone can be a bit soleless. Take lean thinking in healthcare for example. Sure, it’s great in theory and can be successfully applied in the right context. But if the environment is not right, it can become more about technical process than patient care.

This morning as I was listening to Cal Fussman interview Tim Ferris, I realised what that other bit is. Well, he told me, I didn’t exactly realise. It’s elegance. Efficiency gets the process and technical details right, but elegance adds the artistry. In writing it might be the flow between ideas. In jazz the space between the notes.

This ties in with other things that I’ve been learning about in the world of resilient healthcare. They talk about balancing efficiency with thoroughness. The efficiency thoroughness tradeoff. Knowing which parts of the process require deeper consideration, more time and thought. Knowing which parts can be more superficially addressed. Knowing when to pause and listen. Knowing when to assert yourself confidently. Clinicians who can nail this are demonstrating a mastery level of skill. They are providing elegant healthcare.


Last week I did my interview on the Purple Pen Podcast. Proper preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance. I should have done more preparation and planning.

There are reasons for it, but they don’t really matter. And I haven’t heard it yet, so it is possible that there were some good thoughts peppered amongst the things that have been regrettably replaying in my head. But the thing is, it’s happened. I can’t change it. I did something that I’ve never done before. It was really uncomfortable for me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to it (but who really does enjoy listening to their own voice being played back to them?). Despite all this I am glad that I said yes. Because next time I’ll be better.



On Gratitude

This morning I listened to this podcast an interview between Cal Fussman and David Griffen.

On the surface his story isn’t one that I’d normally seek out. It’s very sports oriented. I don’t really care all that much about sports. But I was intrigued by the title and I’m glad I listened. Because you know you’re on to a good thing when the ideas resonate despite the context.

I got a lot of things out of it, but one thing it prompted me to think about in particular was gratitude. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around a lot these days. That’s because it’s so valuable.

It’s my gratitude for my position in life that has pushed me to be bolder of late. I’ve had some close friends and family go through some pretty tough times over the past 5 years. I haven’t had anything much to worry about at all. Sometimes that makes me feel guilty, or like I’m waiting for something to go awry. I’m going to be grateful and make the most of it instead.


Tonight I learned about the game Go courtesy of two documentaries on Netflix: AlphaGo followed by The Surrounding Game (I should’ve watched them the other way around). I still know basically nothing about the actual game, it just looks like dots on a board, but the stories were quite captivating.

The crux of it is that Go is a super complex ancient Chinese board game which is based on logic and really hard to predict. It’s a strategy game like chess, but has far more possible permutations (over 200 possible moves per turn compared to 35). So many that a computer can’t process all of the possibilities. It requires intuition and nuance, not just pattern recognition. That’s what made it a good experiment for the Google DeepMind team. They created an AI machine called AlphaGo and trained it using machine learning.

In 2016 AlphaGo took on the Roger Federer of Go, Lee Sedol from Korea. Best of 5 games.

First game the loss is a surprise for Sedol and a relief for the AI team. Sedol and most other people realise they underestimated the AI.

Second game Sedol goes in thinking he’s learned from the first and loses again. The computer makes some “beautiful move” that a human would never play. Everyone realises that AlphaGo isn’t just a human replica, it’s coming up with its own creative solutions that the humans didn’t teach it.

Sedol takes a day off. Third game is a shambles. He’s totally psyched out and not playing his usual game. He loses the tournament.

By this point in the film you’re starting to really get a feeling for the whole human vs machines thing, and just what it is that makes us human. The empathy that everyone is feeling for Sedol is palpable. The guy that makes the moves for AlphaGo points out how difficult it must be to play against a machine because you don’t have any connection with your opponent which makes it really easy to get caught up in your head and for self doubt to creep in.

In his press conference the language Sedol uses is that of a defeated man. One who doubts that he was ever that good in the first place. Who feels like a failure to himself and others.

Seeing Sedol’s deflated sense of self made me
feel almost as emotional as seeing the young girl with the physical disability sing When I Grow Up (Tim Minchin, Matilda) in the school assembly this morning. The audience obviously felt the same. So much so that the members of the AI team don’t even feel like celebrating.

Fourth game presents an opportunity for redemption or complete defeat. Redemption it is. Sedol makes the game so complicated that the AI doesn’t know how to respond to it. He wins! The emotional response of the crowd was immense. Sedol says “the victory was so wonderful that I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world”. Relief.

Fifth and final game. Everyone’s excited. The machine makes some unusual moves, playing the game differently to how a human would. Apparently humans use the progressive score as an indicator of whether or not they’re likely to win. But to the computer it doesn’t matter how much you win by, it only has to be by one point. This means AlphaGo will change the way the game will be played. Sedol is cool with the loss. He won once. That’s a victory for humans.

There were two key learnings from this for me. First, AI can give computers capacity to express creativity in a way that humans aren’t. This could be really helpful in tackling some of the wicked problems that our world is facing at the moment. Second, exposure to these types of machines can help us to better see what it truly is to be human. And more humanity could be useful in this world. Especially if we’re going to responsibly manage the implementation of this sort of technology into broader society

Embracing constraints

Today is my daughter’s first experience of a book week dress up parade and she’s excited about it.
Every year book week has a theme and this year it is reading is my superpower and you’re supposed to dress up as your secret superpower. My first response when my daughter told me this was naturally (in my head) “wtf does that mean?”.

I asked her what she wanted to dress up as and she said Cinderella (you can also go as a book character). I told her she could go as the dirty maid version of Cinderella but not the princess one. No princesses and definitely no Disney. She didn’t agree to that.
We talked more, trying to come up with something vaguely on theme. Her non-negotiable requirements were that it be something pink and something starting with C. Hmmmm.

By now I was starting to appreciate the challenge. Eventually we hit on something we both agreed on…a pink crayon. Her superpower could be her creativity. She liked the costume but not the reason. Thankfully there’s a book called the day the crayons quit so I could justify it that way. Win.

Often when we’re faced with constraints, we don’t like it. We feel restricted and resentful. But if you embrace the constraints you may end up with a much more creative solution than if you just keep shifting the boundaries and end up with something standard.

Yes, you may create more work for yourself (my Sunday afternoon was spent trying to figure out how to actually make the costume we’d agreed on), but it can be fun. Creating something new is always more fun, no matter how hard.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself (part 3)

I’ve been going through a period lately where I feel like my brain has caught on fire. This is a good thing for me. I’ve written before about how I got pretty disengaged during my second maternity leave, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get past that. Since I’ve made more time for reading more, writing more and consuming less social media and trashy TV (Australian Survivor does not fall into this category) my productivity has significantly increased. Ideas and breakthroughs have been plentiful. Abundant even. But it hasn’t been without consequence. There are some other things that I need to pay attention to outside of my work and my personal health. I’m talking about family and friends.

When you spend so much time in your head, it can be hard to get out of it at times. People throw around the phrase “being present” so much that it feels cliche, but I’m going to use it anyway because it’s valid. Having two young kids and a husband means that I need to make an effort to be present with them and switch from work mode to family mode.

I think I manage to do this pretty well, because they kind of force me into it. It can be hard to think about stuff when there are two kids singing Lion King songs at the top of their lungs and dancing around the lounge room. They also force you to disconnect. Because if my nearly 2 year old son sees my phone then he wants my phone and he will do everything he can to take it from me. So I try to put my phone out of sight and out of reach for the majority of the time when he’s around. This strategy is definitely benefiting my relationship with my immediate family, but not so much with my broader family and friends.

I should start by acknowledging that I’m not the best communicator at the best of times. I will avoid phone calls as much as I possibly can and I’m not the most reliable text message-er. But recently I’ve become terrible. Terrible. If I’m not able to respond to someone immediately, then my response time is appalling. It’s like I somehow trick myself into believing that the reply I composed in my head was actually magically delivered to the other person, and then it completely falls off of my list of things to do. Sometimes it’ll come back into my head at 3am or something, but other times it will disappear for good. This is obviously not a way to make your friends and family feel valued. I need to do better.

The other unintended consequence of being in my head, is my propensity to apply the things that I’ve been learning to family members. Again, more an issue with my parents and siblings than with my husband and kids. Here’s the hot tip (not really, it’s painfully obvious): no one, especially not family members wants to hear your unsolicited insights or opinions. I’m working on that too.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself (part 2)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the advanced practice stuff lately. Mainly because I’m not sure why I have a problem with it. Because, in essence, I don’t have an issue with it.
In essence, I think it’s a great tool for self reflection. To force yourself to go deeper than self claims and provide evidence of outcomes, that’s a great thing for anyone to do. That’s what I enjoy about applying for jobs. Whether I get the job or not (recently it’s been more of the latter) the experience of compiling my evidence examples and reflecting on my resume has been a valuable process.

So what’s my issue? Is it that I’m so cynical that I immediately assume the process is corrupt? Possibly. I need to work on that.

So what’s my issue? My husband pursues credentials in his field and I have no issue with it at all. It’s a great way to help him focus and challenge himself professionally.

So what’s my issue? I think what riled me up about this was when I read this comment from the PSA: “Advancing practice provides pharmacists with a step-by-step pathway to continuously grow”. You see, the way I look at it is that the challenge is what makes it worth pursuing. The harder the better in some ways. This is my ego kicking in I guess. Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy” and I think he was right. Other people’s motivations are their own business, I should just focus on my own.

So is that really my issue? I think what it comes down to is that I don’t know where I would fit into the process and that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have a standard job description. My practice profile probably looks all over the place to an outsider. But maybe that’s the challenge for me. The evidence of whether or not you are able to skillfully craft an argument lays in the hands of the reader, afterall.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

I have challenged myself to be bolder recently and have followed through by being more open with sharing my thoughts and ideas through my writing. And I’m happy that I’ve done this. Already, it’s opened up some new opportunities and connections that didn’t exist a week ago. That’s a successful outcome in my book.

One of the challenges when you take a position on something is making sure you stay true to your values. To make a best effort that your being interpreted in the way you intend.

I think when you’re at the polar ends of a topic this is pretty easy to communicate to others. But when you are more in the centre it is more challenging.

I have expressed strong opinions on the role of organisations, but I am not anti-establishment. The professional associations play an important role and I think that role should continue. But I think it’s unreasonable to expect them to fix everything for the profession. I think that’s up to individuals. I believe that outcomes can only be improved on broad scale through self-actualisation, by individuals realising their capability and challenging the status quo. Doing so isn’t to threaten those associations, it’s to strengthen them.

Yes, I think our profession is currently built on baseline competence. But it’s within the reach of all pharmacists to choose quality over competence. The only limit on how many realise their capability are the limits the individual places on themselves. It’s not limited by others. It’s not limited by the associations.
This is not about conspiracy theories and power differentials. This is about individuals owning up to their professional responsibility.

Smell the cheese

This morning I read an article about how the free trade agreement with Europe is going to effect the naming of food products. One cheesemaker wants to embrace the change because Australian cheesemakers should be confident in their products. Another was more conservative, saying if a customer goes to the shop looking for camembert or brie then that’s what they want, so if their product isn’t called that they’ll miss out on the sale.

Names and terms matter. They communicate to the customer what they can expect from your product or service. The value they expect.

Like it or not, to most people Pharmacist means supplier of drugs. More than advice. Definitely more than medication management services. Absolutely more than any of the behind the scenes stuff they don’t even recognise is happening. The supply.

If we try and rebrand pharmacist as being a different type of health professional we would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. We could lose consumer trust all together and fade into irrelevance. However, if we don’t make it clear that the profession is no longer just about supply we diminish our value.

I think making progress on this must start within the profession. We must have a greater sense of proffession-hood. Understand and believe in our value. Take ownership of being the experts in how medicines are used. 

It doesn’t matter if your role is in a dispensary, conducting HMRs, DTC committee, QUM in RACF, taking medication histories, consulting about OTC medicines, validating chemotherapy, overseeing clinical trials… it’s all about ensuring that those medicines can be used safely and effectively.

I think consumers can understand that message.

I think it can help pharmacists to believe in their value proposition. I think it can help pharmacists to find fulfillment and find ways of contributing to better outcomes whether they are getting smashed with scripts at chemist warehouse or managing a team of clinical pharmacists. Because sometimes, when you’re stuck in the middle of it all, it can be easy to forget.