Ever had an impossible dream? It just might be more possible than you realise with the resources right under your fingertips. First let me start by asking a question:
How long can you survive unaided underwater?
The correct answer is of course more than 30 minutes and if you don’t believe me then read on. In last years Reith Lecture, aired on Radio 4, Dr Atul Gawande related a story of a 3-year-old girl who had gone for a walk with her parents on a winter’s day. The girl was inquisitive and keen to explore. She disappeared from sight and to their horror the parents spied her on the surface of an icy pond. In the next moment she had fallen through the ice and was gone.
In the frantic panic that followed it took the parents over 30 minutes before they felt a limb at the bottom of the pond and were able to pull their daughter to the surface. They pulled her to shore, and unsurprisingly she was not breathing. The pupils were stuck wide-open, fixed and dilated – a clear indication that the brain is gone.
Nobody gives up on a little child. The parents called the emergency services and began CPR. A helicopter arrived and the girl was taken to the nearest hospital, where she bypassed the emergency room and went straight to the operating room. The medical staff began by warming her by plugging in a heart lung bypass machine, which acted as her heartbeat to help pump blood around her body. The machine also took over her breathing.
Over the next 6 hours the medical team brought the little girls temperature up to normal. Her heart began to beat at a normal rhythm. They now tackled the next problem; how to get the lungs clear of pond water and debris so that oxygenated blood could enter her bloodstream. 24 hours later they had the lungs working.
And this is the way it went. Little by little they worked on every part of her body and brought each organ back to life, one by one. After 2 days all the organs were back except one; her brain. She remained in a comatose for a week, and then one day just woke up! Two weeks later she went home. Her right arm and leg were paralyzed, and her speech was severely slurred, but with continued medical care, and in little over two years she was just like any other normal 5 year old!
But this was not a miracle, or a fluke. It was due to the dedication and knowledge of the whole team. There were hundreds of staff involved in achieving the seemingly impossible. It began with the telephone operator who took the call from the distraught parents as they clung to the lifeless body of their daughter next to an icy pond. The operator correctly used the checklist and called on the right medical staff to be ready at the hospital when the girl arrived; any delay could have been fatal but the anesthesiologist and cardiac surgeon were called at home and told to rush in. At each stage of bringing the girl back to life each member of the team knew their role and how it fitted in with the bigger picture. Even the simplest task of a nurse forgetting to wash their hands correctly and allowing bacteria into the patient would have had dire results.
And here is the crux. How many of your staff knows their role fully, and do they know how their efforts fit with the bigger corporate picture? The case described above is extreme; bringing back to life somebody that has been submerged underwater without breathing for over 30 minutes. But all industries have their key requirements. All companies have the ability to achieve the impossible. You have the resource. The key is in unlocking the potential of the team.