MADE TO STICK
Tase the Haze
To succeed on the path to change, say DAN HEATH
AND CHIP HEATH, you have to eliminate ambiguity.
ALLINA HOSPITALS and Clinics,
an innovative health-care network that serves Minnesota and
western Wisconsin, had a drug-abuse problem. And it fell to
Bruce McCarthy, Allina’s chief
medical officer, to fight it.
Many patients at Allina
needed narcotics to manage
chronic pain due to back prob-
lems or arthritis. Unfortunately,
some patients were misusing
or reselling the drugs. “In our
group, we’d had malpractice
suits related to narcotics pre-
scriptions,” says McCarthy, who
recently became the president
of the physician division at
Columbia St. Mary’s health
system. “Worse, in a seven-year
period, two people died, despite
having well-meaning, caring,
and smart doctors.”
Everyone agreed on the goal:
eliminate narcotics misuse. But
good intentions hadn’t been
enough. How could McCarthy
make real change happen?
He realized that Allina
needed an infusion of clarity,
change’s best ally. Just as mountains seem closer on a clear day,
our work, too, can seem more
within our reach, more actionable, when what’s expected of
us is crystal clear.
Imagine that you have two
items on your to-do list. One
is “pick up AAA batteries.”
The other is “deal with tax
issues.” Guess which one is still
unchecked four weeks later? (Or,
if you are Willie Nelson, six years
later.) Clarity begets action.
Economists tell us that we
dislike ambiguity. Consider the
Ellsberg paradox (named after
Daniel Ellsberg, who later became famous for releasing the
Pentagon Papers). Suppose you
have a box—box A—that’s filled
with 50 red balls and 50 white
balls. If we draw a ball at random, would you rather bet that
its color will be red or white?
U.K. grocer Tesco turned
around after it converted its
murky goal of listening to
customers into clear steps.
You’re probably indifferent.
And if you’re not, Harrah’s
would like to invite you to join
its Total Rewards frequent-gambler program.
Now consider a second box,
box B. It’s also filled with red
and white balls, but you don’t
know the color breakdown.
Same drill: If we draw a ball at
random, would you rather bet on
white or red? You’re still indif-
ferent. Understandably. How
could you have a preference?