The transformative power of simplicity
What meditation can teach us about quality improvement
There is a small Buddhist meditation center near my place in Delhi. About once or twice a week, I go there for a Buddhist teaching and meditation class. Our teacher is a Buddhist monk in his sixties. Twice a week, he teaches and guides our meditation practice. His audience is always a mixed group of a few old-timers and some new students who have never done meditation before. So, in every class he teaches the basics of meditation...
Keep your back straight, chest open, a dignified posture, not too relaxed, not too stiff, head slightly forward tilted, bring your attention to your breath and so on.
With immense patience, he repeats the same basic instructions in every session. And after a short meditation session, there is a free-flowing discussion of other concepts of Buddhism. As a monk with decades of immersion in the Buddhist tradition, he may know of complex metaphysical concepts. But he never lets go of the basics - even after 40 years of practicing.
There is a lesson here for all of us who are working on quality improvement. The world of quality improvement is vast, and as we progress, we will go on to learn more interesting and complex ideas - everything from complexity science, systems thinking, management theories, leadership, network theory, behavioral science, you name it!
This process of advancing our learning about improvement science is critical. However, we should never let go of the basics. Irrespective of what our role is in the health care landscape, we should remain involved in the frontline work of improving care.
And just like meditation - there is a 'posture' to our practice:
How to identify simple opportunities for improvement; keep data collection doable; involve the relevant people on improvement teams; test ideas quickly; and make changes that improve care.
And then there is the 'breath' - remaining mindful of the 'soft-skills' of improvement:
Celebrating successes; appreciating people for their ideas and effort; and most importantly learning from things that did not work.
Both these aspects have to come together for our practice to be effective.
Sitting on a cushion - breathing in and breathing out - is possibly the simplest action one can do. Science and spirituality both agree on the transformative power of this simple action.
Even as our individual and collective learning about improvement expands, let us keep coming back to the basics of improvement. This is the simple practice that has the power to transform healthcare and save lives.