I was recently invited to visit a major academic medical center as a Visiting Professor in Neurosurgery. My intent was not to teach “neurosurgery” but rather to discuss broad topics around decision science, judgement, emotional intelligence, executive communication, and change management. The planned title of my presentation was: “Learning to Think Around Corners: a brain surgeon’s journey from the operating room to the board room”. The COVID-19 pandemic upended my plans and my trip was postponed for obvious reasons. The purpose of my talk was to discuss the important mindset pivots I needed to make in order to calibrate my skillset to meet the challenges of my career transition from clinician to executive. I found the type of thinking that I formerly used to make critical neurosurgical decisions didn’t necessarily work well when I needed to make “trade-off” decisions for a time-sensitive business dilemma with major financial risk. That mindset change began in earnest in 2009 when I participated in a Mayo-sponsored leadership development program and continued as I transitioned through graduate business education, health system administration, corporate executive leadership, and now, strategic consulting and physician executive coaching.
So, what do I mean when I say that I needed to learn how to “think around corners”…as opposed to “seeing around corners”? One could reasonably argue that I am making a distinction without a difference. In this context, I would say there is a difference because my extensive training and neuro-surgical experience (“what I knew”) allowed me to predict and reliably react to unexpected clinical obstacles lurking around corners…in a sense I knew what patterns I was looking for around each corner and I had a strong “if-then” plan of action. In the corporate world, I was inexperienced, and my performance was directly impacted not by what I knew, but “how quickly I could learn”…in other words I had to think around a corner as I didn’t have the management experience to see around the corner and know what I needed to do. I had to begin to think “different” in order make better decisions.
Am I better at thinking around corners now than I was when I started this journey eleven years ago? I certainly hope so, but I don’t really get to make that determination; my coaching clients, consulting partners, and my results will tell the story. I have been working as a strategic consultant and physician executive coach now for a couple of years. I have made some mistakes, read some great books, and had a few wins. I think I have enough material to start a series of blog posts around pertinent topics that may help my readers “think around corners”. My goal is to produce short, practical, interesting blog posts on cognitive bias, business acumen, executive communication, change management, decision science, professional burnout, resilience, and emotional intelligence. When I say practical, I want to be accurate enough to be “scientific”, realistic enough to be “authentic”, and relevant enough to be “valuable”. You get to decide if I am successful. Until next time, stay well.