Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Save lives with mind games

Fads don't often make these pages.

This month is different. Mindfulness, which Psychology Today defines as "a state of active, open attention on the present," has splashed across Forbes, Newsweek and even a special edition of Time magazine. The Dallas police force is undergoing mindfulness training. It's touted as a way for superstar athletes to boost performance, and Google, Intel and Goldman Sachs have jumped on the bandwagon.

Well, we will too. Don't worry, ISE magazine isn't going the way of the supermarket tabloid – although I've long yearned to write a headline like "Sasquatch's Six Sigma success: How continuous improvement keeps Bigfoot elusive." Instead, just like the mindfulness technique itself, we'll gently toss our readers this month's cover story, "Mindfulness boosts process performance," by Satya Chakravorty.

Mindfulness involves using meditation, taking time to solve context-specific problems and communicating issues clearly with others. Chakravorty examined a mindfulness program at a hospital critical care unit, which started by turning an unused breakroom into a meditation site, followed by caregivers gathering to trade their improvement ideas. As should always be the case, emphasis was placed on front-line workers.

The author noted that mindfulness helped caregivers avoid the typical best practice approach. While valid in many contexts, the condition of the healthcare "product" – the patients – varies greatly. What works in one hospital – or even the next room – might not work down the hall. It's important that medical practitioners target treatments to each individual patient.

The results were impressive. Staffers drove improvement ideas from the bottom up and reflected on potential interventions before making decisions. The unit admitted more patients, spent fewer hours treating them, reduced costs and discharged them in a healthier state, improving mortality rates.

We have oodles of clichés that make sense in the workplace, things like "work smarter, not harder" and "think outside the box." With a nod to mindfulness, perhaps the next hot phrase should be "Think. Then do."

So read the article and find out how mind games can save lives.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.