Breaking the rules

When people tell us “we can’t or don’t do that ” it often means “we won’t do that”. The distinction is important: Won’t and can’t are not the same thing (not even close).

A few weeks ago I received a brief phone call about some abnormal test results I had. I was away on vacation and unable to be seen in-person for another few weeks.

It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that I realized the information I needed to hear and provide shouldn’t wait another few weeks, and also that I didn’t need to be examined physically in-person to discuss the results and plan of care. A phone or video call would have been just fine. But they don’t do that. 

I recognize that when organizations get big, processes become well-established and people get comfortable in their roles, they start believing they can’t do certain things or they stop caring about doing things differently for the people they serve.

The trouble is, when we believe we can’t do something differently and when we stop caring long enough, we inevitably stumble down the path of frustration and despair. When it comes to health care, the consequences of this kind of thinking are disastrous.

I believe that our work is not always to do what we’re told. That our work is too important to protect against change, failure and criticism. If anything, we’re here to do the work that needs and wants to get done, whether we like it or not. Even if it means doing things differently.

The best work I’ve ever done has broken rules. Every project that has transformed me and the lives of the people I serve involved creating new rules and ways of doing things. The work I’m most proud of involved work that other people wouldn’t do. This kind of work scares me the most, but it’s also been the most rewarding.

The next time you see a colleague not do something they ought to, or say they can’t do something they should, you’ll likely find they are hiding beneath rules that need to be broken.

Please, go ahead and see the rules. Decide which rules people won’t change (but should), and then follow your heart and get to work on breaking them.

When we care enough to do what other people won’t, amazing things happen.