The Silent Mentor

I stumbled across an interesting thought recently while browsing Quora.  Apologies for the morbid nature of this post.

A member of the Quora community asked about what happens to cadavers after medical students are finished with them, to which user Daniel Lim offer this answer regarding medical schools in Taiwan.  You can read his full answer linked here.

“The students spend a year dissecting the body, and at the end replace the organs and sew back the skin. They then conduct a mass remembrance ceremony and funeral for the Silent Mentors.”

The concept of the silent mentor is bound up in the following quote from Li He-zhen:

“I will give you my body to experiment; you can make as many mistakes on me, but never make a mistake on the patient.”

I found this to be a power quote that exemplifies an element of education that is sometimes overlooked in the modern economy.  From my experiences, higher education is often seen as training first, before considerations of growth and development.  When you complete your program, you will have been signed-off as competent in a field.  This competence is granted after a series of lectures and tests; tests that you must not fail.

But failure is almost always viewed negatively.  Bad grades are seen as a sign of deficiency – you are not smart if you are getting bad grades.  Failure is costly to students as it sets them back, which costs time, money, reputation, etc.  Education is cut-throat in the modern economy and everyone is in competition for a scarcity of jobs.  If you fail, you are moved backwards relative to the pack.

Yet, failure can be an opportunity.  It’s a chance to see where you have avenues of growth and development.  Rather than seeing failure as an end-point, failure should be viewed constructively as the points that we need to focus on.  Teachers shouldn’t be seen as punishing students for failing, nor should students be seen as inadequate for failing.  Students should have permission to fail.  School is the best time to fail, because the stakes (tuition notwithstanding) are so low.  It’s a chance to test ideas, try things out and learn from the outcomes.  Making mistakes should be instructive.  Expertise is not just knowing the right answers, but also about having a powerful command of all the mistakes that are possible, too.  Teacher have an obligation to instruct pupils properly, not to attempt to download the contents of their brains into the minds of the students.  Education does not work that way.

If we approach failure this way, and encourage making mistakes in safe environments like school, then students will be better prepared to succeed when something as precious as life is on the line.

You can read further on the topic of the medical education and use of cadavers in Taiwan here and here.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading (as of June 19th)

Drawing inspiration from Marginal REVOLUTION, a blog co-maintained by economist and author Tyler Cowan, I think I’ll insert an occasional update of the books I’m reading.  While Cowan and Alex Tabarrok update the site several times each day, and you’ll see these lists from them at least once a week, I do not have plans to update with any regular frequency.  However, I’ve been reading books at a decent pace, and I have enough books on the go that I can make a short list here from time to time.

For all the books I read last year, see My 2016 Reading List.  You can also follow my reading on my instagram account, where I post the covers of books as I finish them.

Here are five books I’m currently reading:

Reading the Humanities: How I Lost My Modernity by John Greenwood

This book was authored by one of my former professors from way back in first year of undergrad.  I still owe him two papers from the class I took with him – it’s the only class I failed at university (surprise, surprise).  I found myself in the university book shop on a recent visit to campus and decided to pick this up and check it out.  It’s exactly what you would want and expect from a professor who teaches literature and meditates on various topics relevant to life.  It reminds me a lot of what you see from The School of Life.

 

Mort by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been taking in the world of Terry Pratchett by audiobooks as of late.  It helps me pass the time on the commute to work, and I enjoy fictional books delivered by audiobook, as listening to the story is easier to absorb than nonfiction.  The titular character Mort is alright enough, but I’m really in this story for Death.  Everything about the character Death is awesome to me, especially his dry humour and the metaphysics that goes into explaining a character who reaps souls.

 

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This book pops up in a lot of self-improvement and self-reflection blogs and books, so I think it was inevitable that I would read it eventually.  This is doubly so because she name-drops Aristotle on the cover (virtue ethics for the win!).  I actually stole this copy from my fiancee’s mother, so I should finish it and put it back on the bookshelf before anyone notices.  Amusing sidenote – I stole this book from her a couple months before Christmas, then my fiancee received a copy from her mother as a Christmas gift.  Really, I should just read the one we have a home…

 

 The Road to Character by David Brooks

Another book related to my future mother-in-law.  This was actually a book I had mentioned to my fiancee that I was interested in checking out and was planning on swiping from her mother (I really seem to have a problem with theft and books, specifically the books owned by my future mother-in-law…).  Well, my fiancee told her mom  that I was interested in the book, so I received it as a gift for last Christmas.  Funny how things work themselves out.

 

 

Rome’s Last Citizen by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni

I believe I saw this book recommended by Ryan Holiday on one of his monthly reading lists.  Last year, I was on a big stoicism kick, so the life of one of Rome’s most famous stoic practitioners appealed to me.  I am finding the read a little slow as there is a lot of extra history that is included to give context to the events of Cato’s life, but I’m still finding the book interesting and insightful.

 

Feel free to comment below with books that you are reading that I should check out.  I’d love to hear about them and grow my reading list.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Hurray for Benefits

Confession time – last week, I visited the optometrist for the first time in 10-years.  I know this because the glasses I’m wearing (as of writing) I got in 2007 before I went to Kenya, and I haven’t updated them since.

I was very lucky to be  covered under my parent’s benefits plans for so long while I was still in school, but once I moved away, it was inconvenient to schedule medical appointments on the few weekends I took the bus back home.  This is a  terrible excuse, and I don’t pretend that I’m the victim of circumstance.  The truth is I got lazy when I should have taken ownership of my health.  My undergraduate tuition included partial health and dental benefits, so other than deductibles, there was no reason for me to let it slip for so long.

And it proved to be quite the stint.  After my doctor retired from regular GP practice, I’ve been without a family doctor for 5 or so years, I hadn’t seen the dentist in a decade, and as mentioned at the outset, my eyes hadn’t been checked in as long.  In principle, I believe in preventative maintenance, but  the barriers of cost and navigating the system on my own were enough for me to choose to avoid confronting it head-on.

I only started going to the dentist regularly almost 2-years ago now because I thought I had a cavity.  I was in emergency maintenance mode, where I only tended to medical problems and illness as they arose (through long waits in emerge or walk-in clinics).

I am very fortunate to have good benefits through my work.  I may grumble when I see the aggregate amount of money that I pay on my side of the coin, but when I am able to get reimbursed on most of the costs for semi-annual visits to the dentist, and my recent eye exam and new pair of glasses I’m glad I pay into the system.

I know that I’m in the minority here – most people do not have this kind of access to preventative health support, let alone the high costs associated with health care not covered by our provincial health plan.  It’s something that I’m very grateful for, and I should keep this in mind in my entitled moments.

Now… if only I could keep up with preventative maintenance and go to the gym more regularly…

 

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

May Sleep Check-in

Oof!  Failure!

After a status quo April (here are the entries for January, February, March, and the first Quarter analysis), I really back-slid for May with 4(!?!) nights.

IMG_20170531_104052639
In general, May 2017 was not a good month for a number of reasons – poor sleep, poor exercise, and some listlessness about my career.

Reviewing May, I have a number of observations I’ve noticed:

  1. I had one really good stretch where I, for the first time, hit 3 out of 4 nights in a row  of 7+ hours of sleep.  This coincided with my partner being out of town (not correlated, but something I am noting), and it also falling on the long weekend.  With the long weekend, I was able to sleep in on the Monday.
  2. I had a couple weeks with a lot of meetings and extra work, which might have created a new spiral of: little sleep -> tired -> weak will -> making bad choices -> going to bed later.  Without a system (e.g. an enforced, bed time), I’m letting my whims dictate my actions.
  3. There are a number of nights were I’m in bed for 7-hours, but I’m experiencing restless period of sleep, which lowers the amount of sleep I’m tracking for.  Generally, if I’m getting between 6.5-7-hours of sleep, I’m likely to have been in bed for at least 7 hours.  Anything less than 6.5-hours means I’m probably not going to bed until closer to midnight.  Again, this is just an observation.  My main conclusion is that I need to increase the amount of time I’m in bed (i.e. go to bed earlier).

Screenshot_20170531-103918

Here’s hoping that I learn from my mistakes and do better next month.  One thing I’m going to test in June is to see if this level of failure will motivate me to be more mindful of sleep.  If things don’t improve by the time July rolls around, I think I will set a concrete target for the number of nights I want to hit my sleep target.

 

Stay Awesome,

 

Ryan

Honest Check-in: Failing Fitness Upkeep

Brutally honest time: I’m not exercising regularly (yet again).

I will grant that I’ve been noticeably busier in the last week or so, however the last trip I logged at the gym was Tuesday, May 9th.  I don’t even know off-hand the last time I rowed (and there’s no point in looking it up, since it probably won’t be good).

This latest round of trying to build a better habit of exercising has, so far, not taken root as I had hoped.  This is not to say that I’m abandoning the effort.  I don’t see a need to give up because I’ve failed to implement the system.

The important thing is to reaffirm that I want to commit to it, then get back on the horse to try again.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

Books That Helped Me Connect With People

Last year, I made a concerted effort to read more.  Having reflected on what I had read in 2015, I was disappointed with how few books I read, so I made the conscious choice to change it.  While I’m not saying that every book I read in 2016 was transformative or personally edifying, I’ve found that reading more has changed some of my behaviours as I’m able to draw up the experience of others and see connections between ideas.

A perfect example from work has illustrated this for me.  At the College, we are in the middle of several program review cycles.  A few engineering programs in my portfolio are undergoing major program reviews and revision, while every program is also currently engaging in their yearly reflection.  As with any quality assurance process, the fact-finding and documentation phases are at best detail-orientated, and at worst an endless stream of forms and checkboxes.  If left unstructured, all parties involved find the process long, boring, and frustrating.

Part of my expanded role has been to provide support to the parties involved.  The upfront result is that I can provide easier access to information and a sense of continuity with other programs in the School of Engineering, while the backend result is that I can help keep these reviews from spiralling out of control and going way over time.

Last week, I received a very warm and heartening piece of feedback from a faculty member.  After spending 3-hours locked in a room with the program team, we emerged with a decent SWOT analysis and some potential action items.  A faculty member approached me and praised me for my facilitation.  He noted that sometimes faculty can put on an air of negativity towards change or events that are beyond their control, and he felt that not only had I done a good job of redirecting negativity into something more constructive, but I also added a lot of valuable insight into the process, despite not being an engineer myself.

I thanked him for his comments and reflected on the process.  I realized that a lot of the tricks I used during facilitation were borne from books and ideas I’ve read recently.  I would be lying if I pretended to have come up with these ideas by myself.  Instead, I want to credit some of the books I’ve read with helping me to do my job better.

The following books are offered as potential sources of information.  I’m not including them because they are the best or the only authorities in their domains.  Instead, I include them because I found something valuable within their pages; value that helped me do my job better.

In no particular order, and with some brief comments, here are books that helped me connect with people and do my job better.

***

How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Slight disclosure – I haven’t had a chance to finish this book!  Perhaps a bad choice to kick off this list, but of the material I read it was already incredibly valuable.  Sure, this book is quite dated and perhaps is a reflection of a era that we have since abandoned.  However, as a person who found connecting with people difficult, I found the simple advice of empathy and seeking to solve the problems of others from their point of view to be useful in the workplace.  I often approach problems more collaboratively and with an open ear to the issues concerning others, which makes working with faculty a lot more productive.

***

Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss

Another confession – I haven’t finished this book yet (I only started it last week).  Chris Voss was an FBI hostage and terrorist negotiator, and has distilled his experience into this book.  Many of his suggestions run counter-intuitive to previous practices, but his claim is that they are effective.  Am I negotiating for the lives of hostages with faculty?  Absolutely not.  But am I working to find common ground with a group of people with diverse and unique needs?  You betcha I am.  Negotiation is all about establishing a report and making a connection with the other person, and I found that information in this book helps to open those doors with people who may or may not be fully invested in the process (or have agendas of their own).

***

The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch

Finally, a book I’ve finished reading!  Including this book is less about helping me communicate with others and instead has helped me think differently on what we, as a team, need to put our effort towards.  Not every problem is worthy of our attention.  Through this book, I gained an appreciation for understanding that there is often an imbalance between the number of things that cause the bulk of our problems.  I’ve since started playing around with our review process and am proposing a radical reversal of how we think of program reviews.  Early feedback from Chairs and the Dean are quite positive, so I think I’m onto something when I propose that we find the key performance indicators for the top reasons why college programs do poorly.

***

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Rather than a practical application book (though don’t misunderstand me, there is a lot of practical advice found here), I found the leadership philosophies discussed in this book to be insightful.  In order to get a collection of people moving in the same direction, you need to focus on what’s important and establish a top-down view of the organization.  Leadership starts at the top, but you need to also ensure that the people all down the line are empowered with a sense of direction, purpose and autonomy, and most importantly, a sense of trust.  While I don’t pretend to lead the team of faculty I’m working with, I can take steps to set up a safe environment where we can be free to discuss hard ideas, and we have a common direction to push towards.

***

Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley

I’m not including this to suggest that working at a College is like being in a war.  However, the same principles that this book discusses that keep Marines alive in combat can also be applied in everyday life.  I originally read this book to help me identify danger as a security guard at the bar, but I’ve also found that cluing into behavioural and environmental cues helps me to connect with others.  You learn to pick up on subtle nuances about how others think and feel, which can help you avoid problems and find common ground to work together.  Combat might be the extreme outlier, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it.

***

Tribes by Seth Godin

Another leadership entry on this list to close things off.  While I don’t pretend to have any authority over my colleagues, I make sure to, at minimum, function as a supportive member of a team, and often provide leadership to help guide and decide the direction of the process.  This isn’t necessarily a top-down authoritative act, though.  Leaders need to help the group feel cohesive and unified, and more importantly, needs to give a sense of purpose and direction to the group.  At the College, we are seeking to provide the best educational experience for our students so that they go out and become supportive, contributing members of their communities (whether that’s the larger social community they live within, or the workplace they belong to).  To get people on board, you have to be willing to make others feel like they are a part of the team, rather than a means to your own ends.  We all have jobs to do, and we rely on others in order to do our own jobs, but that doesn’t mean you can make the process feel more like a collaboration.

***

Let me know what books you’ve found helpful to connect with others.  I’m always looking for book recommendations!

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Compare You With You

Here’s an interesting quote I stumbled across:

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

~Matthew Weiner (Creator of Mad Men)

Sometimes, we forget that when we see someone execute skill with percision and grace, we are not seeing the countless hours of practice and error that went into that moment.  There is an interesting question raised in the West Wing about pharmaceuticals:

How much does the first pill cost?
$1 million.
How much does the second pill cost?
$0.50.

The first pill is the culmination of time, dollars and research to create.  But once it’s created, the set-up cost is done.  You can reliably reproduce the product at only the cost of material.  Skills work the same way.  You go to school, you pay for an education, you put in time to gain experience, you practice endlessly, all for that one moment when you swiftly carry out what has been drilled into your head.

Therefore, there is a flaw in comparing your skill with those of an expert.  You should stick to comparing apples to apples.  Not apples to apple crisp.

 

Stay Awesome,

 

Ryan