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CIO Unplugged – 11/15/08

November 15, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

By Ed Marx

I love Broadway. One benefit of working in Cleveland for 8 years was our proximity to the crown of the city, Playhouse Square. Playhouse represented the largest theatre district outside of Broadway. We enjoyed the most famous shows as well as the emerging ones and even added our then pre-teen children as subscribers to offer them a taste of culture. Broadway struck me as remarkable considering my youthful idea of entertainment had been rumbling in a mosh pit in the day slamming to the Boomtown Rats, Missing Persons, and The Clash to name a few.

Our first show was Fiddler on the Roof, the marvelously deep story of Tevye, father of five daughters. Tevye struggled to maintain balance when outside influences encroached upon his religious traditions and his family. His three eldest daughters inched aggressively toward abandoning the established customs of a Jewish marriage by choosing their own husbands, forcing Tevye to question their age-old practices. Meanwhile, the Tsar was working to evict the Jews from their village, Anatevka. Should Tevye stay and die fighting, or move on? He lived a precarious existence, like that of a fiddler perching on a roof. Between the future and…Tradition!

This story connected with the fiddler in me, for I also lived in the tension between old and new. Between tradition and innovation. The good old days and the brave new world. When my family journeyed to the United States from Germany in 1975, we preserved our Bavarian traditions. I wore Lederhosen to school, and it didn’t take long to see that I was not up to date with the western culture. It took a while, but I finally convinced my boss—I mean Mother—to buy me a pair of blue jeans. Mom’s sauerbraten and spätzle, on the other hand, I’ll never give up, for those items have little eternal influence.

Thanks to my youth experience, I have since kept abreast of the trends, culturally and in business. Desiring to thrive in my work rather than simply survive, I lean progressively towards the new and bold. It’s frightening at times to step into unexplored or unconventional territory. But the benefit has always been worth the risk. Imperfect and painful? Oh yes. But better to endure the flaming path of innovation than smother and die under the yolk of tradition.

Sit back for a moment and assess your life. Then assess your department. Are you where you should be, or are you wearing Lederhosen to work?

“But it’s my organization that lives in the obsolete world, not I,” you say.

Yes, organizations are full of traditions and each has its own rooftop fiddler. Some traditions are important, yet many are simply tradition. Following tradition for tradition’s sake is exposed when groundbreaking ideas are presented, especially from individuals new to the organization. I pity the organization whose culture is steeped so deeply in tradition that attempts to introduce innovations and foreign concepts are summarily rebuffed, leaving that organization to smother, unchanged. Unfortunately, those passionate leaders who could help advance an organization into the latest fashion of blue jeans might get discouraged and leave. Or worse. They’ll allow themselves to be assimilated and acquiesce to tradition.

In this day and age, technology is progressing at such a rapid pace that the IT leader cannot be timid in exploiting it. Do you want to make a difference or not? Do you remember why you got into this business? Are you staying true to that calling? Or have you been beaten down over the years by those who refuse to grow? For some of you, it’s time to resurrect the vision that once inspired your exuberance to change the healthcare world, to impact patient safety and the quality of care. We’ve got to care enough to not let ourselves become complacent. Whether or not you’re new to your organization, shake the bonds of tradition-for-tradition-sake and lead boldly. Just like Tevye’s daughters (Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava) you also must push forward. We can all glean from the character Perchik who tired of rhetoric and feel good culture and chose to blaze a new trail.

Will blazing a new trail lead you to danger and possibly put your position at risk? Probably. But aren’t the advancements we fight for worth the crusade to bring about prosperity for our patients and employers? They are to me. I’d rather move on than wither under…TRADITION!

Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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