The more we learn and grow, the better we can understand ourselves, our patients, and our world.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | March 9, 2023 | 2 min read
Great advice can come from unexpected sources–that’s what I learned when reading, “The Personal MBA: Master The Art of Business,” by Josh Kaufman. Although a book about business, its principles can be applied to better patient care practices. Here’s a bit a bit about the book: in the 1990s, Charlie Munger, billionaire and business partner of Warren Buffett, proposed that every discipline has a unique mental model–a framework of thought that simplifies its core tenets and perspectives. He stated that the key to understanding the world was “a latticework of mental models in your head . . . With that system, things gradually fit together in a way that enhances cognition.” Munger saw just what biologist Julian Huxley did: “Life is just one relatedness after the other,” and that finding these connections led to more intelligent thinking.
Munger developed his latticework of mental models through his diverse work experience. Although his career success was in the investment sector, he had previously studied physics and math, trained as a meteorologist, enlisted in the army, and practiced as an attorney. The connections he formed enabled him to, as Warren Buffett pointed out, “analyze and evaluate any kind of deal faster and more accurately than any man alive.”
Munger’s emphasis on connection aligns with a newly emerging field in neuroscience: connectomics. Wei-Chung Allen Lee, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, stated that “to understand what a single neuron is doing, ideally you study it within the context of the rest of the neural network.” Munger viewed his business as a single neuron in a network of other disciplines, and his experiences in the other areas optimized understanding of his own field.
As healthcare professionals, what if we aspired to develop our own latticeworks of mental models as well? This would involve delving into our hobbies and interests not just as a form of burnout prevention, but also as an integral part of our education and training. Here are some lessons I’ve learned while making an active effort to do so:
1. Many disciplines overlap in skills. Becoming a better observer of art has helped me take a better patient history. Creating an elevator pitch for lobbying a bill sharpened my skills for drafting a research proposal.
2. Fresh perspectives create opportunities. Learning the mental models of other fields is often a catalyst for new ideas.
3. Periods of work require periods of active recovery. As I took time away from studying to be involved in advocacy or read more about history, I felt less fatigued and more refueled to start studying again.
4. Balance is crucial. When adding more activities to our plates, there’s always the risk of biting off more than we can chew. It’s important to be realistic and only take on activities that we’re passionate about.
As both Huxley and Munger point out, everything is connected. The more mental models and connections we intentionally seek, the stronger both the latticework and neuronal network in our minds become, and the better we understand our world, our practice, and our patients.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.