You’re a healthcare administrator so you have strong feelings about meetings and you continue attending them because attending meetings is what healthcare administrators do when they’re not responding to email.

But imagine if meetings became what you do when you needed to get something done. 

Here’s an idea from the design world that may do just that: Bring a prototype to every meeting.

A prototype is something that turns the idea in your head into something tangible. It’s an early demonstration of the idea in action. Rather than just conversation, it’s something to react to. It gives others the ability to experience, assess, and improve the idea. Most importantly, in the context of a meeting, a prototype ensures progress.

Think back to the trouble you (probably) had the last time you tried communicating your technology needs to the experts. Perhaps a sketch of a proposed software interface would have helped you communicate the ideas to an IT team more so than a labored conversation about requirements.

The same can be true for your non-technology projects, too.

A prototype is intended to create a scale model of something larger. It’s not intended to be a finished product. 

Mock up an idea using Powerpoint or one of many available online tools. Engage a colleague to act out a scripted experience. Use Post-It Notes and a Sharpie. Add cardboard and construction paper if it helps. Think low fidelity and low-cost. The Interaction Design Foundation has a nice and concise overview of prototyping methods here and know “There can never be an exhaustive list of prototyping methods since there is quite literally an endless number of ways you can build prototypes.”

Diego Rodriguez, the former Global Managing Director at IDEO and current Chief Product and Design Officer at Intuit, says to expect three things to happen when you begin bringing a prototype to every meeting: 

First, a lot of your meetings will evaporate. Those that shouldn’t happen in the first place, the ones where nothing gets done, won’t. If you can’t bring a prototype of your latest thinking, there’s a simple solution: don’t have the meeting.

Second, the meetings you do have will be awesome. With something concrete in the room, discussions will be more productive and actionable, and the level of shared understanding and alignment will go through the roof.

Finally, bring more prototypes to meetings, and you’ll boost levels of performance and engagement across your organization.




Of course, once you implement the prototype rule, the best meetings will be the meetings led by you. And in that regard, Allan Chochinov, the founding partner and editor-in-chief of design magazine Core77 and the chair and co-founder of the Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts, has an idea that takes the prototype rule even further: stop calling them meetings and start calling them reviews. 

He explains with an example:

Let’s take a look at this in action: Your calendar says that you have a “meeting at 3:30pm today.” Okay, now imagine that, instead, it read that you have a “review at 3:30pm today.” You’d look pretty silly going empty-handed to a review, right? It’s right there in the definition of the word “review” that the implicit (or actually, explicit) point of that gathering is to review stuff. Indeed, you would need to prepare something—anything—if you were going to a gathering of workmates that was labeled a review. (A “meeting” on the other hand doesn’t have any expectation built into it at all. And it already sounds dreadful).

He continues, “The effect of these ‘entry fees’ is to surface new knowledge, and to give the meeting participants something to react to; we all know that it’s far easier, and more fun, to react to something in front of our face than to try to dream up something out of thin air.”

So there you go: make your meetings productive by converting them to reviews, implying a cost of entry, and leveraging prototypes as a method of progress.

Amazon delivered “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters last week. He’s long been influential in my thinking about work and organizations. I own several of his more recent books but have never read the original tome that kicked it all off.

The idea of pursuing excellence has been around for so long—it’s been nearly forty years since “In Search of Excellence” was published—it has lost gusto as a management fad in contemporary organizations.

But Seth Godin resurrected the idea for me when he talked about the book on Brian Koppelman’s The Moment podcast recently. Organizational excellence was a nascent idea before “In Search of Excellence” was published.

The thing is, somewhere between 1982 and today, the idea of excellence was conflated with the notion of efficiency in most organizations. It’s resulted in a questionable efficiency-at-all-costs-excellence-strategy throughout the industry.

There’s nothing wrong with efficiency as an organizational ideal. It’s just that a blind pursuit of efficiency in the name of excellence actually comes at the expense of excellence.

Because the problem with efficiency-as-excellence idea, as Seth relays on the podcast, lies in the definition of efficiency: meeting spec. 

And the definition of excellence is not meeting spec. 

Organizational excellence is actually an output of human caring. Human caring in organizations, according to Seth’s interpretation of “In Search of Excellence,” is the answer to this question: “How would you do the work if you actually cared about it?” 

This matters because, in my estimation, many of the problems in healthcare delivery organizations today are mislabeled as efficiency problems when they should be considered problems of excellence.




I think healthcare delivery organizations are rather efficient operators.

What they lack, as I hear a muffled “bullshit” under your breath, is employees who ask themselves, “How would I do the work if I actually cared about it?,” when it comes to improving the operations of healthcare delivery. 

Conflating efficiency and excellence has resulted in a workplace cultural satisfaction that merely meeting spec is good enough when it comes to improving healthcare delivery operations.

It’s not. 

Because it ignores excellence.

And it is excellence that will emerge again as an organizational pursuit for competitive advantage as efficiency has merely become the expectation.

Henry Mintzberg writes that management is “learned primarily through experience and rooted in context.”

It’s truly a cruel irony: the only way to learn how to manage is to manage.

No schooling, no seminars, no conferences can prepare a person to manage. 

Only a real-life management job of actually managing gives you the necessary skills to successfully manage.

That translates into a lot of starts and stops, luck and learning, and successes and mistakes.  

With a bit of failure sprinkled in: missed deadlines, unmet expectations, overwhelming responsibilities, demanding hours, etc., etc., etc.

That’s not even to mention the assholery of bosses, colleagues, and employees.

Sooner or later a certain mix of circumstances will lead to … something: frustration, stress, loss of confidence, anxiety, stress, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve taken to calling these somethings shitty work things. A shitty work thing is just that: a prolonged period of job dissatisfaction stemming from something shitty at work.

Shitty work things are shitty because they get in the way of doing good work—which is the reason we got into healthcare administration to begin with. Being a healthcare administrator is already hard enough. Add a shitty work thing on top and the job can quickly become undoable.

I think shitty work things happen to everyone.

The shitty work things I’m familiar with—friends, employees, me…—were mostly successfully navigated. 

But they were painful. Too painful. Difficult to navigate. Hard to get through.

So I created something to help healthcare administrators experiencing a shitty work thing.

Shitty Work Thing for Healthcare Administrators is like a first-aid kit for healthcare administrators braving a shitty work thing. It’s an email subscription of twenty emails over twenty work days crafted to help healthcare administrators focus on the work, tune out the noise, and find a path out.

I’d like to share it with you. You can learn more here.

Thanksgiving! A holiday with no gift giving requirements and a distribution of household labor (the cooking, the baking, cleaning the dishes, turkey carving, beer fetching, cocktail mixing…) where the expectations are inherently agreed upon.

It also gives many of us a reason to think about other people—a collective, country-wide exercise that happens on the same day each year.

And if you’ll pardon a blunt segue from the dinner table to the boardroom table, thinking about other people is something much of the workforce could do more often—and specifically thinking about work situations from the perspective of another.

Thinking about work situations from the perspective of a boss, employee, colleague, etc. is a critical tool that separates strategically-minded achievers from the rest of the workforce.

Because most of us rarely see the world from any other angle than our own. 

I was reminded of the idea this week while listening to Brian Koppelman interview Jenna Fischer—you might know her better as Pam from The Office—on his podcast The Moment. Fischer tells the story of sitting through a network test audition for a pilot episode of a new TV show in a room full of actors, writers, producers, and network executives.

An actor thinks everybody is just thinking about their performance and how good they are but in reality everyone has something at stake because when the actor goes in the room and starts performing the material if the actor isn’t “doing well” … I talk to writers and directors who are like “oh my god it’s me, I wrote wrong” or “I’ve directed that person wrong” … everybody is feeling the nerves in the room and that’s why those rooms are so tense I think because everybody thinks it’s about them but it’s about all of our parts.

The actor thinks it’s about them. The writer thinks it’s about them. The producer thinks it’s about them. The network executives definitely think it’s about them.

But of course it’s about everybody. The actor needs the writer and the producer. The writer needs the actor and the producer. The producer needs the actor and the writer. And everyone needs the network executives. The end product suffers if anyone loses sight of the intentions and motives of any other.

In the workplace we call the intentions and motives of other people an agenda. It’s usually used with a negative connotation but understanding another person’s agenda is key to achievement in the workplace. Knowing why other people are making the decisions they’re making will help you make your own. 

Lacking agenda awareness as you sit around a boardroom table is akin to arriving at the Thanksgiving dinner table with the intention of having a sensible political discussion. It could be bad for your relationships.

Workplace culture is a constant topic in my social circles. 

As more people look for (and find!) meaning and identity in their jobs they are also increasingly holding their workplaces to certain cultural ideals. And it seems the idea of workplace culture being important plays out across generations, not just something important to millennials.

But what I’ve found most interesting is the way workplace culture is commonly framed in these conversations: it’s either good or it’s bad (and often it’s just bad, because that’s what makes it conversation worthy). There’s very little gray.

It’s an analog assessment. Good or bad. It’s that black and white for a lot of people. 

But good or bad as the defacto workplace culture evaluation feels incomplete.

There are logical instances when we can universally apply the bad culture label to the workplace: sexual harassment, bigotry, misogyny/misandry, and generally anything else frowned on by Human Resources or the law more generally.

But outside of that—what’s good? What’s bad? 

Well I think it depends. It’s a matter of personal preference. 

Remember that New York Times exposé on Amazon from 2015?

The article painted the company in a negative light as being a workplace that operates at an unrelenting pace and unsympathetic to those uncomfortable with that reality.

Amazon is an incredibly innovative company. They are arguably executing strategy better than any other American corporation. That type of environment probably provides the right type of person with exactly the opportunity they were looking for. But it’s probably not the place to find happiness at work for those looking for something else culturally. 

So if you were job searching and looking for something other than what Amazon is offering it seems foolish to think you could go to work for them and think it was going to be different for you.

The analog good or bad evaluation of workplace culture is insufficient for the modern workday. 




Perhaps the right way look at workplace culture is through a lens of individual nuance: is the company’s culture right for me?

It reminded me of Austin Kleon’s praise for the “It wasn’t for me” idea when it comes to books (and just about everything else):

I like the phrase because it’s essentially positive: underlying it is the assumption that there is a book, or rather, books, for me, but this one just wasn’t one of them. It also allows me to tell you how I felt about the book without me shutting down the possibility that you might like it, or making you feel stupid if you did like it.

It just wasn’t for me. No big deal.

And “me” changes, so when you say, “It wasn’t for me,” maybe it’s not for the “me” right now—maybe it’s for future Me, or Me lounging in a beach chair in Jamaica, or Me at fourteen.

Workplace culture not as good or bad but as “it wasn’t for me” or “that’s my jam!”

Workplace culture as right for the individual and the individual’s interests, but not for everyone. Think about it.