Here’s a thought experiment: How would you teach a person who is blind since birth what an elephant looks like? The size of an elephant makes it harder for the blind person to visualise the whole by feeling its parts.
In order to best explain what an elephant looks like, there is little hope unless you and the blind person can relate to some shared experiences. Let’s come back to this problem in a while.
I work in the software industry. To measure the effectiveness of the software one develops, it’s considered best to eat your own cooking by regularly use software that you develop. Only by using our product ourselves can we gauge its effectiveness and shortcomings, sympathise with the user and ultimately improve the product.
This is true of other professions as well. Can we really trust a restaurant’s food if its owners and employees don’t eat it? Likewise, it’s hard to trust a mechanic who always gets his car fixed elsewhere. If you’re a leader and you don’t use what you build or preach that others should use it, you’re not being sincere.
Let’s say I own a hospital but neither I nor my family ever uses it whenever we fall sick. What signal does this send to my patients, family and colleagues at work? Isn’t it unfair to ask other people to risk their lives at your hospital but not to risk your own? It shows that your mind and heart are somewhere else. Turning a sick person into a healthy one is an indication of value creation. As a result, my decision to not seek treatment at my own hospital for myself and my family sends the wrong signal: that my hospital isn’t creating real value. All this will do nothing but demoralise future patients and employees.
Moreover, if I’m not using my hospital, it means that I’m not proactively looking for feedback. This, in turn, indicates that I’m not keen on improving its services in fast iterations. Also, by not using it, I will not be aware of problems until patients report them (which is costly both for patients and the hospital). I will never know how the hospital performs for different people and whether everyone finds it reliable, safe and comfortable.
If I’m not interested in knowing the problems of my hospital, one can infer that I don’t have the intention to improve its services. If I don’t have the intention to improve its services, I probably don’t care if people encounter any trouble while using it. Therefore, I think it’s important to use the product (or service) yourself – given that you can – if you really ought to be helping people who will eventually consume the service.
Recently, there has been a trend whereby our political leaders from different parties ensure that they and their families receive medical treatment overseas. I think this sends an odd signal to citizens and casts every entity related to our healthcare industry in a bad light. It undermines our healthcare policies, doctors, medical education system and pharmaceutical industry.
Can we believe that our healthcare industry is effective if the deeds of our leaders with respect to it are not in accordance with their words – that is, they don’t risk their lives in it as they ask their followers to? How can our leaders ever improve the system if they don’t know, first hand, how ineffective it is? Can I trust that my leaders have the intention to help me when they don’t have the intention to learn about my problems? Can we trust our leaders who choose the best services for themselves and their families elsewhere – services which I cannot afford or choose for myself and my family?
It’s strange to feel that there is not a single doctor or a hospital in Pakistan that can treat our leaders or their families. What is equally strange is the fact that they have not been able to create such a hospital even though they have been ruling us for decades and have access to financial resources and power.
Our leaders cannot solve our issues if they don’t share experiences with us. Normally, it’s hard to fix things that one doesn’t own. Our leaders need to own the services they claim to have improved by leaps and bounds, including healthcare and education, to restore our confidence. They need to back their words with their deeds.
Coming back to the elephant story: I think the best way to help blind people visualise the elephant is to cure their blindness. That is the only way they can move past their ignorance and see what an elephant is. The same goes for our leaders. The only way to cure their blindness to our problems is to make them use the services that they provide to us and that we use. Their failure to do so – and thereby determine what might need improvement – can result in irreversible losses in terms of the lives lost and the money wasted. Without sharing experiences with us, they will never feel our pain.