Which wolf are you feeding?

PUBLISHED ON  June 11, 2013

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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Life has been wonderfully busy, especially building a startup company, so I haven’t written recently. It seems fitting to share a a Cherokee legend that a friend just taught me about:

One day an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “The same fight is going on inside you. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil – it is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good – it is joy, peace, love, faith, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Prescribe Respect

PUBLISHED ON  February 24, 2013

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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I’ve been noticing recently that the most important thing I can do in clinic is listen respectfully and come up with a shared plan that feels like the patient owns it at least as much as I do.  When it goes well it almost feels like I’m handing out a prescription for respect.

Looking through this lens, I see respect as the critical currency in most of what we do, whether it’s doctoring, collaborating with colleagues, parenting, or teaching.

This year, our daughter’s 3rd grade teacher is probably the best elementary school teacher we’ve ever met.  One key to his success: every morning as the kids line up to enter the classroom, he individually looks every kid in the eye, shakes their hand, and genuinely asks them how they are doing, how was their weekend, or similar.  What does it mean for an 8 year old to have a respected grown man take them that seriously everyday?

When things aren’t going right with someone at work, or with my wife for that matter, it seems like it’s always a good idea to remember to ask myself: does the other person feel like they’re getting enough respect from me?  These relationships are obviously more complex than this, but I’m finding this simple framing helps me better understand others’ perspectives.

While I can’t prove it, I’m willing to bet that a prescription for metformin accompanied by an extra dose of respect results in better adherence and outcomes.  What does respect mean in this context?  This is definitely a work in progress, but I think it includes:

  • Introducing myself as “Roni Zeiger, one of the doctors here” instead of “Dr. Zeiger”, a tip I recently stole from Otis Brawley after reading his book, How We Do Harm
  • Asking the patient what he or she thinks is wrong; I explain that I find patients often know what’s wrong or their ideas provide useful clues
  • Explaining that the diagnosis and/or treatment we agree upon might be wrong and how we’ll learn that if that’s the case

In this context, respect means I’m interested in your perspective and it matters, we should collaborate, you are part of the solution.

Here’s to prescribing more respect and more sincere collaboration with patients.

The 5-95 Rule

PUBLISHED ON  January 28, 2013

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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I’ve had a ridiculously fortunate life and career so far.  One of my “problems” is that there are too many interesting things to work on.  I’m developing an approach to this problem, which I call the 5-95 Rule.  It’s a work in progress, and I’d like to share it in case it’s helpful and selfishly to learn how it might be improved.

Assuming a long and healthy career, I expect there will be about 5 projects that will be THE things I work on.  These are the ones that have the highest potential impact and are most uniquely suited to my background in medicine, product development, and informatics.  My last such ‘project’ was my fabulous job at Google.  The current one is a startup company called Smart Patients (more on that another time).

I estimate that over the course of my career there will be another 95 projects where (a) the project could have important impact on the world and (b) I could significantly improve the project’s chance of success.  So, a career with 5 projects that I’ll work on full time, and 95 others — hence, the 5-95 rule.  I’ve developed a pretty good sense of how to choose the 5 and dedicate myself to them.  But how do I find the other 95 and what do I do about them?

I don’t think I’ll ever have a perfect answer, but I actively think about this now.  Why try to find them at all?  I’m an impact junkie and I love to learn.  I’ve also learned lessons about how critical focus is, so we’re talking about small, targeted commitments.  One might be a formal advisory role, another a lunch and a few emails.

Currently, I’m an advisor for three companies: Qpid.me, ShareTheVisit, and Hobnob, and I’m on the board of directors of a non-profit, Medic Mobile.  One not-very-humble principle guides me: if I’m a formal advisor for a company, I want to be their best advisor.  If I can’t be, that’s a signal that it might not be a good enough fit.

I love that I often get asked for informal advice.  If I don’t think I can help much, I’m not shy about saying so, sharing my quick thoughts, and wishing someone good luck.  Probably once a quarter, I have lunch with a  young entrepreneur.  I’m certain that much of the time, I learn much more than they do.  (Another discussion for later: I’m convinced that the only useful definition of expert, is that someone thinks you’re an expert. The rest is self-fulfilling.)

One of the many reasons for starting to blog again is to have an easy to find “contact me” page.  If you’re one of the 95, let me know!