Slow Ideas – Spreading Information in Medicine and Education

24 Jul

contributor_atulgawande-new_p233Atul Gawande is an author and a doctor, the kind of writer who  takes lessons learned from the medical world and  connects them to bigger-world implications.  He’s written about coaching and budgeting, politics and testing.  And yes, that’s coaching, budgeting, politics, and testing in medicine, but if you’re seeing the ties to education, I see them too.  His most recent article, “Slow Ideas,” is no exception.  In it, he discusses why some ideas take off like lightening, whereas others take years or never catch on, no matter how sensible and life-changing they may be.

Why the difference?  He talks about some reasons that ideas don’t take off (invisible problems, painful implementation, lack of resources) and about how the government has tried to spread ideas in the past–asking people to do something, or punishing them when they don’t do it, or rewarding them when they do.  Sound familiar?  But what’s even more interesting are his thoughts on how to help those ideas take root.  Gawande gives example after example where the way to spread an idea is through people–through person-to-person connection, talking and building relationships.

This approach takes time and investment.  It’s not a quick fix, or particularly high-tech.  And it connects to our work with students, with teachers, and in schools.  If  we want an idea to take root and grow, we need to invest not only the time into it, but the human relationship as well.  One of Gawande’s last quotes is from a nurse explaining why she was willing to listen to an expert colleague who nonetheless had fewer years of experience.  “It wasn’t like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes,” she said. “It was like talking to a friend.”  Time, personal relationship, and the sense that the woman was there to help, not judge or punish.  A good analogy for educational coaching, and professional development, and reform and learning in general.

I encourage you to read the article,  and an older one about coaching (thanks to Jenny Maehara for tipping me off to this one!) — they’re good stuff!

One Response to “Slow Ideas – Spreading Information in Medicine and Education”


  1. School’s Starting…Come on and Get Happy :) | Wordsmatter - August 14, 2013

    […] of press recently, from the importance in the student-teacher relationship, to their importance in spreading ideas, even to their role in staving off dementia.  If we want to work on strengthening one thing in our […]

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