The other day a good friend and business partner of mine got the kind of news that you never want to receive….”You have cancer. Prostate cancer.” Male or female, read on because this relates to you as business professional and as a human being. It’s a story about self-awareness, responsibility, and accountability.
Long story short; Brad (age 46) gets the lab report back from his annual physical. His doctor wrote a note on the front page “Your cholesterol is nice and low. Good work!” Most people would have assumed, I know I would have, that based on the note attached everything was normal and just filed the report. Brad made it a point to look at all the numbers on both pages. What he noticed was his PSA numbers were up from where they were a year ago (1.9 in 2011 to 3.4 in 2012). The red flag level where doctors get concerned about your PSA level is 4.0. So his physician didn’t make mention of it.
The back story is- Brad has a history of prostate cancer in his family; he lost his father to the disease when his dad was just 67 years old because it had gone undetected for a number of years. From that day forward, Brad made a decision to be extremely vigilant about his health and makes it 100% his own responsibility to maintain his health. After seeing his PSA number nearly double inside of a year he went to a specialist who took a biopsy and it was diagnosed as cancerous. Fortunately sooner rather than later.
How does this relate to the rest of us? Statistics versus trends, not just in medicine but in everything. I don’t love relationships with numbers in business or sports. People often get too emotionally tied to the numbers, or results and lose sight of the process. Mark Twain once said, “there are lies, damn lies and statistics.” What I do believe in with regard to numbers is monitoring trends. For example, trends in revenue from last quarter to this quarter or Q3 2011 vs Q3 2012 to look for symptoms why sales figures aren’t where they should be. This is why monitoring trends in your health is also important. If Brad weren’t monitoring the fact that his PSA numbers were trending in the wrong direction and simply dismissed the report as, “Oh well, 4.0 is the red flag level and I’m under that number,” his cancer would have gone undetected and grown.
The Lessons For All of Us:
1. Even experts make oversights and mistakes. Don’t assume that because someone is highly credentialed they are perfect or smarter than you. There is a danger in taking everything an expert says at face value, there is also tremendous value in getting a second opinion. We are each 100% responsible for our personal and professional health.
2. See the big picture and the historical data. What underlying causes have historically plagued your organization? Odds are it runs in the family so to speak and has been passed down to the next generation of employees.
3. Be proactive. Identify and diagnose problems then treat them quickly. Cancer for you could be in the form of a problem employee who affects morale. Bring in your version of a specialist to diagnose him or her – is their problem benign or malignant. To quote my mentor, friend, and cancer survivor Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Don Meyer, “If they are malignant have them removed. If they’re benign treat them and if you’re not sure remove them anyway to be safe.”