Why would we be offended if someone offered to pay us after we invited them to Thanksgiving dinner? What is the cost of zero, and why is it far more expensive than $0.01? Do we really need to tell our waiter our order in secret if we really want to feel that it is okay for us to have our first choice from the menu?

Subtitled; “The Hidden Forces that shape our Decisions,” Dr. Ariely’s superb book has the potential to change dramatically how we think about business and our personal lives.

With the use of subtle yet easily understood experimental data, Dr. Ariely exposes humans as often acting against our own interests due to societal or market norms and that we just do not understand our own personalities and the role that emotion plays in shaping decision making – spoiler its usually for the worse.

So why would we feel offended if someone offered to pay for Thanksgiving dinner? Dr. Ariely not only explains but also shows with examples and experiment data that we humans have social exchanges and market exchanges of behavior. Social exchanges we use with friends and family. They are the norms that govern daily life and allow us to bond with other humans. Market exchanges are, as they sound, the exchange of money for goods and services and also the money we receive in exchange for our labor in the form of our working lives. When one offers to pay for Thanksgiving dinner were mixing social norms with market norms. We are indicating that we are rejecting the social acceptance of those who may be friends or family in favor of an exchange that we could expect to have with a stranger. A commercial transaction. What becomes interesting in breaking these social norms is that we find it is difficult to go back. Trying to pay for Thanksgiving dinner may never get us invited back because a social exchange has been turned into a market exchange. Employers who do not have social exchanges with their employees may find that employees therefore treat the relationship as a purely market exchange and leave for an employer who offers a better market exchange – usually more money or better benefits.  This also explains why employers who do embrace a social exchange in their workplace culture become frustrated and angry when an employee uses only market norms in their decision-making process to leave.

Likewise, when companies use a social exchange to bond with clients they may find when they resort to a market exchange when it suits them – policy over the relationship with the client – they have unleashed a Pandora’s box of problems with someone they once may have considered a friend of the business. Business can’t have it both ways, and if we try to, we are storing up trouble for ourselves.

Debunking of personality testing, without mentioning personality testing, is in this book with a discussion of priming and setting expectations. There are also volumes of data showing that making something free rather than reducing a price – even if the reductions are the same, can make a dramatic difference in the uptake of an offer. Buy one get one free really does work!

There is also a highly disturbing chapter on the affect of sexual arousal and decision making and morality. While I will spare you the details here it is difficult as a guy to read this chapter without recognizing oneself and feeling ashamed of the implications. This chapter does not give guys and excuse; however, it should make us pause and understand that we have the capability to be highly irrational in the right circumstances.

And that is really the crux of the book.

By recognizing that we can be irrational beings and what triggers that irrationality, we can know ourselves better and make better decisions. It also allows us to spot irrationality in others and how that has come about.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

Prove It by Melanie Deziel with Phil M Jones: Exactly How Modern Marketers Earn Trust, is the follow-up to Ms. Deziel excellent The Content Fuel Framework which I reviewed last year.

Like its predecessor, Prove It is a how to guide that many marketers will find familiar for the ideas and concepts are not really new and are the fodder that modern marketing is based on. However, like her previous book, what Ms. Deziel and Mr. Jones do in Prove It is to create an overarching framework and concept that put these ideas into context and provides a guide to future ideas and processes.

The main thrust of Prove Its is that today’s customers don’t want to be told why they should buy a product or service but to be shown why they should with concrete and provable examples. This process then becomes the underpinning for a brand as a whole. Where Prove It really works its magic is by showing rather than telling. It uses the slogans and catchphrases that the reader will be all too familiar with to make its points crystal clear.  “Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” for example is Geico’s way of proving that they are easy and convenient to deal with while also potentially being able to save the customer money – ‘give us a little of your time and we’ll lower your car insurance rate.’

Prove it is full of these examples for every type of business or service and how these claims can be discovered about your business, and how that discovery process in turn leads into a marketing / branding strategy. The book also encourages the reader to back up these claims with documentation and to use this a method of re-enforcing the brand’s identity by doing so. Where Prove It really scores on this front is by pointing out that businesses often already have access this documentation in other forms. Reviews on sites such as Yelp, customer service surveys, or just by talking to customers themselves can yield not only great content but can also provide witness to the claims that a brand is making and therefore backup the branding process itself.

What I personally found very interesting was a dissection of how Apple ‘coached’ its client base to not necessarily believe the claims of its competitors when it came to the differences between using a Mac or another computer brand with its “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” series of TV ads. The idea that an ad can be coaching a customer to ask the difficult questions that the competition may not want to answer is fascinating and subtly brilliant.

Prove It is a short and engaging book for both marketing professionals and beginners alike. It demystifies how modern advertising and content marketing work. This is not a nuts and bolts “place this type of ad at this type of time” kind of book; but more about mindset. This is a book to understand how to sell a product or service so that a customer can easily identity the ‘why’ they are prepared to buy.

To sum up it so very worth your time and its place on your bookshelf.

Digital signage is something I have embraced more and more over the years and this post is an attempt to share some of those technological solutions. Managing multiple veterinary hospitals, these solutions are obviously geared towards the needs of the veterinary hospitals as are the pictured examples; however, these examples will also work with any business trying to achieve the same goals. I also only use PCs; however, most of these solutions should work with Macs or other platforms.

Delivering Video Content

The simplest and cheapest way I have found to deliver video content is to use Apple TVs. These are a simple “set top” boxes that allow for the streaming of video content from the internet or from a networked server computer running iTunes. Please note this would not be your main network server, although I guess is could be, but is more likely just be a conveniently located computer running iTunes that acts as a content server. A monitor can just be plugged into the Apple TV using an HDMI cable and the Apple TV can access the network via an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi (I would recommend the ethernet cable.)

Apple TV
Rear of the Apple TV

For example, a playlist of video content can be created on YouTube and then streamed to the Apple TV. Alternatively, content is stored on a local computer, categorized Music Videos instead of Home Videos, and then put in a playlist. The playlist can then be selected, on repeat, from the “computer” icon in the Apple TV setup and then streamed.

Please note that you should always have permission, or own the content, that you are displaying to the public for copyright reasons.

Theses days most “Smart TVs” have a built in YouTube app meaning it is possible to not use the Apple TV boxes at all and just stream directly from YouTube. YouTube allows for the creation of playlists and content can be unlisted so that only those that are logged into your account or who have a direct link can video those videos. The downside to this is that it means uploading all content and then continuously streaming it from the internet. That’s a lot of bandwidth and time moving around very large files. It obviously also means replying on an internet connection for delivery and an outside service which may change its policies on advertising at any time.

The upside to streaming content like this is that multiple new playlists can be created from a central location and then played back whenever ready from the display using the Apple TV remote or the smart TV remote.

The downside to using streaming, whether directly to a smart TV or to an Apple TV box and then a to a display is that multiple displays cannot be synced. In my experience this is not a problem for most applications, but if having the same thing displaying on multiple displays at the same time is important then combining an Apple TV system with a Wolfpack system (see below) will achieve this.  

Displaying a Computer Screen

Many computer programs have dashboards, censuses, electronic whiteboards, PowerPoint, or even just CCTV feeds that it would be helpful to displayed around a building. One can obviously just use individual computers and monitors for this job. However, this can be expensive in terms of software and hardware, and often is just not ergonomically satisfying due to the size of the PC and needing a mouse and keyboard to make changes and general maintenance.

Using individual computers to run displays from Practice Management Software (PMS)

HMDI over ethernet is a possible solution. There are a few different systems out there, but I really like the Wolfpack system from HDTV Supply.

The Wolfpack Matrix Switcher with Transmitter and Receiver boxes

The Wolfpack system does not send HDMI signals over a building’s network, rather it converts HDMI signals to Ethernet and then back again. A central matrix switch allows the administrator to route inputs to outputs as needed.

A Computer running PMS displayed at multiple locations using the Wolfpack system

As you can see in the above image, the display HDMI signal from a computer is sent to a Wolfpack transmitter box and converted so it can run over Ethernet. In turn, this Ethernet cable is plugged into the matrix switch which then sends the signal to as many receivers as needed. Each outlet will need its own Ethernet cable / route. These Ethernet outputs are then plugged into Wolfpack receiver boxes and converted back into HDMI which can then be plugged into the displays.

If setting up a system like this, I strongly recommend having a display local to the computer rather than just replying on the remote displays. This can be achieved by having a second video card in the computer or by having an additional Wolfpack receiver box and monitor where the computer is.

A more complicated wolfpack system with two different computers displaying different information from the PMS to multiple locations

These systems are extremely flexible, but please be aware that since each display requires its own Ethernet route existing ethernet lines can get used up fast and therefore cause problems for your traditional computer network. Another advantage of this system is that adding a new display is only as expensive as the display itself and a new receiver box.

It is possible to combine both the Apple TV system and the Wolfpack system to allow for content displays to display the same content in sync with each other. The HDMI output of the Apple TV plugs into a Wolfpack transmitter box and from there the signal is routed to Wolfpack receiver boxes and the attached displays. Again, I would strongly recommend if setting up a system like this to have a display local to the Apple TV for setup and maintenance purposes.

Screen Savers as Digital Signage    

Although the need for screen savers on modern computers is not longer the requirement it once was, the tools offered by screen savers on individual PCs makes for great static digital signage. Images, not video as of this writing, can be displayed sequentially or in a random order on some or all of a building’s computers. Indeed, it is even possible to have multiple different sequences running on different computers depending on the companies needs or where those computers are in the building itself. The huge advantage of using screen savers is that there is no hardware or software to be purchased; the screens and computers already exist.

Screen savers as digital signage also has the added advantage of the simplicity of using images and is therefore a great starting point for beginners trying to introduce other team members to the benefits of using digital signage.

Screen savers being used to display new employee information throughout the building

The way to achieve screen saver digital signage is to use the “photo” screen saver tool on each individual computer. This is time consuming but only needs to be done once. The photo screen saver tool is generally found under “settings” and then “display” on PCs and needs to point to a folder on the network, preferably the server, that contains the images to be displayed. Windows, displays images in numerical and / or alphabetical order of the file name. If a particular order is needed, then the naming convention of the images in the folder needs to be considered. To have a separate set of images for a different set of computers or area of the building simply have second folder and point those computers screen savers to that location on the network.

Screen savers in an exam room being used to deliver marketing information while clients wait

With a probably configured system, adding new images into the screen saver is merely a matter of dropping new images into the correct folder. To remove images, just remove them from the folder. A discussion of what is trying to be achieved is probably worth having with the network administrator or IT vendor as the networked folder for the images will probably require access adjustments.

Screen savers being used to deliver staff bios to clients in an exam room

Pro tip – getting the speed at which images change, particularly if those images contain a lot of text can be tricky. Most screen saver tools just have slow medium or fast as options. However, duplicating images and giving them sequential file names (1a.jpg and 1b.jpg for example) will allow for an increase in the time spent on any one image. Please note this does not work if the photos are being displayed in a random order.

Digital signage is a great dynamic tool; however, it is only as good as the content that is displayed on it. Consideration as to what is going to be displayed, how it is going to generated, and who is responsible for updating are all key questions that need answered before jumping into the world of digital signage.  

After I reviewed both the TV show and book, Five Days at Memorial, I swore I was not going to make a habit of this.

And yet here we are.

Super Pumped, the book, is an in depth look at the rise and fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Impeccably researched, and detailed, it goes into the twists and turns of the Uber story. A story of hubris, a complete lack of ethics, a toxic working environment, and a deep dive into the cult of personality that often surrounds tech founders and CEOs. The book also has a few gonzo moments as the author finds themselves part of the story they are covering for both for good and bad.

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, the TV Show, is the first season in an ongoing anthology series. The second series will be based on a forthcoming book, also by Mike Isaac, on Facebook. The TV show does an excellent job of capturing all the major beats and intrigues of the book, while also adding a distinctly more human face to its subjects. Kalanick is much more fleshed out in his relationships with girlfriends and family. There is also much more focus on how much the key figures start out liking each other rather than just being marriages of convenience. However, how much of this is “added drama” is unclear. But given the attention to detail of most of the rest of the story, I am inclined to believe the implication if not the actual events themselves.

Where the TV show really shines is in its portrayal of the side characters and their experiences with Kalanick and his “Bro” culture. Episode five is an extraordinary study in sexual harassment and a dysfunctional Human Resources department as experienced by regular employees. Another scene that stands out is when (spoiler) Kalanick’s girlfriend is breaking up with him, an event that clearly affects him, but yet he stops the argument so that he can answer an email on his phone. The book certainly focuses on the sexual harassment aspects of Uber’s culture, however, the visceral nature of the TV dramatization makes for uncomfortable viewing without straying into exploitative / voyeuristic territory. A thoughtful selection of scenes from this episode would make an excellent starting ground for understanding sexist work cultures and how to avoid them and the sexual harassment that ultimately results for managers – both new and old.

The story of Uber and Travis Kalanick is an extraordinary one and is worth your time as a cautionary tale and as a reflection on our cultural blind spot when it comes to convenience. What kind of world do we live in where convenience trumps ethics and the celebration of behavior this is, not to put too fine a point on it, despicable? Does success excuse bad behavior or does success breed a lack of respect for the rules? Does startup culture, which embraces out of the box solutions, also include the idea that as long as you are successful all will be forgiven?

While Travis Kalanick is undoubtedly an extraordinary individual, the TV show rarely makes the viewer feel anything other than deep unease if not downright dislike. The book, while less personal and emotional, is able to illicit sympathy for Kalanick during a meeting with the author and, when out of spite, one of the Uber board members leaks details of Kalanick’s departure from Uber – humiliating him, when the agreement was for a face-saving departure.

By the nature of a TV show, even a series, it can’t go into the detail that a book can. It is interesting that Super Pumped the TV Show starts when Uber is already a reality and uses conversations between protagonists to comment on its past founding and early days. Whereas the book starts from Kalanick’s previous start up and Uber’s humble beginnings as an idea of Garrett Camp when he could not get a cab. Likewise, the TV show ends with Kalanick’s ouster as CEO whereas the book continues into the intrigues of finding a successor and the settling of various lawsuits.

While Super Pumped the book is very much worth your time; Super Pumped: The Battle of Uber, the TV show, is the more extraordinary piece of media. Incredibly watchable, and a useful tool for managers when it comes to toxic internal cultures, the TV show is worth staying up till 2:00AM, as I did, to watch the entire thing in one hit.

Both will also make you download the Lyft app.

“You don’t have to go to every argument you are invited to.”

It is refreshing to read a book about communication that is so direct, and tool driven. Mr. Manney has created such a book and it is excellent.

Filled with examples of how to change conversations and thinking, as well as helpful nuggets such as the one above and “you only ever control 50% of the conversation,” this is a book that is meant to be slowly digested and read a chapter at a time. In fact, what makes this book so interesting and usable is its insistence that arguing is not an insurmountable problem, but that there are limits to what an individual can do and how to move forward with that information.

The book also interjects that arguments are really opportunities to try and find new solutions to existing problems. It is obvious from reading that Mr. Manney is a therapist due to the dispassionate voice that is so often missing from more business orientated communication books. That is not to say that “Why We Argue and How to Stop” is not a book that focuses on business communication – it is and even tackles social media issues – it is more to suggest that this is a perspective we don’t often hear in the business world. And that’s a shame.

Where this book really succeeds is on focusing on the person and their motivations for arguing. This is a book about healthy relationships and what it takes to not only start them but to maintain them. I am particularly enamored with the authors habit of showing what prior bad habits in communication look like and then what making efforts to more health communication look like about the same subject.

This is a book to refer back to – particularly when trying to self-diagnose issues with arguing and communication in general. The author’s advice to read one chapter and then digest it before moving on is sound. But I feel its real value is in using the book as a resource as circumstances arise. Knowledge of one’s own emotions are not often easily came by, but Mr. Manney provides some excellent tools for doing just that – including mnemonics.

The latter chapters of the book stray into more specific areas such as dealing with children and teens, as well as abusive relationships. Which this is, of course, great information to have, it does seem to be rather shoehorned in. This is a very minor quibble, however, for such a useful book, and I am sure that others will be glad that the latter chapters are there.

This is not a long book, but it is surprising dense. Do not let that put you off. Read in small chunks. Breathe in what is being said to you. This is a great book and worthy of a space on your shelf as long as you go back to it when needed, as we can all use its wisdom.

Have we really learned nothing over the past 20 years?

Last week, the SEC filed a lawsuit against former executives of the now defunct MoviePass. It alleges what has become an all too familiar tale. That MoviePass was not only a business that could never work, but that its owners knew it could never work, lied to customers, investors, and the markets, and to cap things off siphoned money away to executives through fraudulent invoices for services never delivered.

MoviePass was a service whereby movie patrons would pay $9.99 per month and see as many movies as they liked –  MoviePass would reimburse the movie theater for the price of the ticket. From the start there were those that said that this could never work. But the modern gods of data, analytics, and consumer research said otherwise – or so we were told. It turns out this was not the case. There was no research, no analytical software, and what boils down to no business plan – alleges the SEC. 

I for one am getting pretty sick of this.

Some new highflying new business comes along and promises to change the world and by implication telling us that we are doing it all wrong. And it leaves those who do not buy into the hype scratching their heads wondering what they are missing. What is rarely discussed is the reliance on venture capital. On creating market share above all else – stability and long-term viability be damned. The magicians point to Google, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, YouTube, PayPal, et al. But for every one of these there are hundreds or thousands of companies that don’t, that can’t, work. And some of these flameout spectacularly: Theranos, WeWork, Enron, pets.com, remember these?

I can’t help thinking about the Michael Lewis book, and its surprisingly faithful movie adaptation; “The Big Short.” The Big Short is about the housing crisis and the subsequent crash and world recession. More precisely, the book is about those who saw that the subprime housing market was fundamentally flawed if not actually fraudulent and spend most of the book trying to figure out what they are missing. As it turns out there are missing anything other than the willingness of others to delude themselves. 

Business should be about delivering goods and services to the community. The contract being that if a business delivers a fair product, at a fair price, a business should be rewarded by being profitable, paying its employees fairly, and if the owners want, being able to sell that business as a going concern in the future.

Where things have gone wrong is the idea of using a business to create a narrative. A narrative of the potential of the future. One day we will be profitable. One day we will be sustainable because our competitors will be out of business. We’ve ran the numbers and by some magic it will all work out down the road – look at all our customers. South Park highlighted this nonsense best with a group of gnomes who collect underpants. Their three-step plan being step one: collect underpants and step three: being profit, but never actually figuring out what step two, the most important step, actually is.

Once those at the top realize that their emperor has no clothes the lies start, and then in some cases, the fraud. Even if it does not lead to lies and fraud, the implications for society can be dire when we up end markets on a promise rather than a sound financial plan. Rental arbitrage for example, where properties are rented and then put up for short term rentals using services such as Airbnb, have made renting impossibly expensive in many cities for people who just want somewhere to live.

Now I like to think I’m not an idiot. I understand that some industries need scale to be able to work. That a startup might well have significant burn rate (the rate at which it spends investors cash). Visionary ideas are often not recognized. Disruption can be painful – and there are businesses that do need to be disrupted. There are businesses that leave money on the table that become opportunities for others. Finally, I also get that startup culture has changed our world, for the better, in a lot of ways.

But in turn, that does not mean that we should blindly accept the narrative of a businesses that sounds too good to be true is actually just ahead of their time when actually the much simpler explanation of them actually being too good to be true is more accurate. What does is say about our business landscape when a company, or an existing industry which is profitable is put out of existence by a company that can never be profitable except in the minds of those willing to finance the risk up until the point they can sell the risk to someone else and make boat loads of cash?

Take Uber. The poster child for the disruption of an industry that needed disrupting. A radical change to how people get around cities. However, they still have not made a profit in any meaningful way. Just how big does a company like Uber need to be in order to be profitable? Lots of people have gotten rich, lots of other companies have gone out of business as a result, lots of ethical lapses, lots of legally questionable tactics, and an internal culture so toxic it got its own TV show – the excellent Super Pumped on Showtime.

Uber makes our lives easier but customers underpaying for something always makes customers happier. And that’s the problem. I would argue, that in the long run stability is what matters for society. The jury is still out as to whether Uber drivers are happier than Taxi drivers. Uber is certainly more convenient for drivers, they tend to be more productive, and the barriers to entry have been removed (although there is a significant argument that Lyft deserves more of the credit here). The recent lawsuits about employee classification would seem to suggest that all in not well in the space. But what happens when Uber is “too big to fail?” Does it become the very industry is sought to disrupt?

In the end, while traditional business can be seen as stale and boring, without the glamor and potential riches of startup culture, they have the advantage of adding to society and generally being profitable. The masters of the universe of startup culture, and venture capitalism, at times seem to be the peddlers of nothing but vision. While there is lots of talk about changing the world, this is often at the expense of internal culture and the norms of doing business. Breaking things is not always the best way to get what you want done. Not all startups / venture capital funded enterprises are toxic cesspits and not more traditional business are sweetness and light.

What is becoming obvious, however, is that just disruption and having a good vison are not enough to achieve results in the real world and there by bring benefit to society as a whole.

Writing an accessible and thorough book about a complex and everchanging subject, such as social media, is a daunting prospect – particularly when your audience is a niche one such as veterinary medicine. Dr. Caitlin DeWilde; however, has done just that.

With the look and feel of a textbook, but the format a “Dummies” or “Idiots how to” book, Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals is a how to guide to all the major Social Media platforms and to all the tasks needing to be understood for someone who is not a marketing professional or even someone that interested in social media or reviews.

With chapters dedicated to each of the major platforms making up the first half of the book this can at times feel redundant; however, the thoroughness will be welcomed by those feeling out of their depth in a brand-new field and the dedication to not making assumptions is more than admirable. The second half of the book is a much more interesting read for the existing user, touching on issues such as retargeting (when online ads seem to follow you around the internet), review bombing, return on investment (ROI), and general advertising strategies both online and in print ads.

Filled with footnotes, the book is impeccably researched as would expect from someone with Dr. DeWilde’s reputation as “The Social DVM.” The index is a little thin, but it at least has one and it covers most of the things that one is likely to need to find in a hurry. What is a surprising addition is the over 80 QR Codes that link directly to an online resource for forms and other digital content. It is a little disappointing that the QR codes only take the user to a menu structure that the reader then must navigate through to get the required content. But this is a minor quibble and is a great use of a technology that is often used and abused. The fact that these online resources exist at all, and are included in the price of this volume, more than makes up for any navigation quibbles.

While I waded through all 200 odd and large format pages in three or four sittings, this is actually a book to tackle one chapter at a time, or to dip into as required. Growing your knowledge with your own experimentation and reading. While there is some building on what has come before, the chapters generally stand on their own and therefore can be used as a reference book if so desired.

Whether it be new managers suddenly saddled with a topic they know nothing about, staff members who have only ever used social media for their own personal networks, or those looking to build their own personal brands online there is now a guide for you with no translations from other industries required. To the vast majority of its readers, the subject of this book will always be a side interest to their main passion – whether it be veterinary management or veterinary medicine. We don’t often get resources geared towards niche areas within other niche areas. It is great to see this one.

Dr. DeWilde has literally written the book on using social media as a veterinary professional.

And it’s a good one.

I loved Dominick Quartuccio’s other book, Design your Future which I reviewed here. When I was sent the second edition of On Purpose Leadership I had high hopes, and in general those hopes were met – sort of.

The problem, and I’m prepared to be wrong here, is that while Design Your Future felt like a new and fresh bundle of ideas, On Purpose Leadership feels like a second bite of the same apple. That it was written before Design Your Future is an irony not lost on me.  The idea of bringing focus into your leadership world is not by any means unwelcome. As is being those lessons to your team. The issue is that it is not a different enough book for the reader to feel that they actually have read a different book.

The tools in On Purpose Leadership are great in themselves. The “drifting” and dissatisfaction of leaders, even those who have achieved significant success, is a well understood phenomenon. Most of us call this burnout. Anything that helps those in management circles is very welcome. Identifying the problems with burnout or drift is helpful as are identifying the solutions. The idea of putting oneself first, that others want to be led, and creating an environment for success are all excellent principles for addressing the problem.

This is a short and small book, with some interesting case studies, but for me the greater insights are to be gleaned from Mr. Quartuccio’s other book or reading both books in tandem.

The TV show on Apple TV + “Five Days at Memorial” based on the book of the same name (which in turn is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning article) is about three quarters through as I finished the book and I write this. Therefore, my criticism and praise of the show should be seen in this context. I’ll try to keep this review free of major spoilers for the TV show, but it is difficult to discuss the issues of this true story without covering some of the events involved.

“Five Days at Memorial” tells the story of what happened to the doctors and patients at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans when they lost power, were flooded, were abandoned by authorities, and evacuation was difficult to impossible. It is a challenging story that involves issues of disaster preparedness, corporate ownership of hospitals, death, euthanasia, quality of life, triage, race relations, rationing of care, and the potential criminal culpability of doctors for decisions made during emergency situations.

The TV show seems to be told from a particular point of view which in a story like this means taking a particular side. It paints a bleak picture of hospital ownership, which according to the book, are certainly due for criticism; however, the lack of care and forethought shown is disingenuous. It does set a similar tone, but like many “docudramas” it combines characters, invents new ones, and seems to invent situations to fit story arcs and running times. The acrimonious relationship between the staff at Memorial and the staff of the Life Care Hospice hospital, that inhabited the same building, seems to be a fiction made for TV.  It also wholesale moves one situation from a different hospital, Memorial was not the only hospital with major issues during Katrina, to Memorial for dramatic effect.

While I’m painting a picture of the show as being an unreliable narrator that is not to say that it is not entertaining and emotionally engaging. It also shows the importance of disaster preparedness and the dedication of medical professionals. Being in the veterinary profession, the plight of pets and the role they play in the movement of people during emergencies, is of particular interest. While the book does an excellent job of recognizing the issues that looking after pets in an emergency raise, the TV show pays only lip service to this, except for one brutally accurate scene in episode six.

As of episode six, the show is of limited use as a teaching tool about disaster response and medical ethics although it is a show worth watching. It does do an excellent job of showing how rumors start and get out of control but provides no solution for controlling them – unlike the book which forays into comparing how other hospitals, during Katrina, dealt with the same issues as Memorial differently or made the same mistakes.

As a teaching tool for disaster response issues, the book is remarkable. It acts as the crucible for ideas that was never able to be had in public and really needed to be. These are issues that affect us to this day. The book, written in 2013, makes this clear with hindsight as it discusses the withdrawal of ventilators from patients during a potential Influenza pandemic. While Katrina changed many things about disaster response and emergency preparedness, this book shows how much still has to change nine years after its publication and 17 years after Hurricane Katrina.

The book swings wildly between differing points of view on the more contentious issues which buffets the reader much as the characters in the book must have felt. The research is impeccable and paints an impressively detailed picture of both Memorial during Katrina and  that of public opinion, law enforcement, politicians, and the medical community in the aftermath.

It also explores in depth not only moral quandaries faced by doctors and emergency personnel, but also the ethical and legal issues that also arise. It does an extraordinary job of showing how people in decision making positions get trapped by a lack of situational awareness and become prisoners of decisions made with different information at different times.

What Five Days at Memorial shows, both in written form and to a lesser extent its TV cousin, is that heroes can be flawed and that villains can do good. What really needs to be our focus is values. Do emergencies change our values or do our values inform how we respond to emergencies? We need to discuss that, particularly considering COVID 19, and if the TV show helps that happen then it will have done a great service to our society.

However, it will be the book that informs that discussion and that we should use as a foundation. This is what great books do. They focus our minds and give us evidence to think. There are no easy answers in Five days at Memorial and a lot of questions. But what Ms. Fink (more accurately addressed as Dr. Fink since she herself is an M.D.) has done is set us a table for us to dine over and have those discussions. These issues will not go away, and as the book makes clear in the epilogue, we are doomed to make the same mistakes, with the same justifications, or go down potentially dangerous roads, if we do not have frank discussions about how we as a society actually feel about ethical and moral quandaries that often arise in the most trying and difficult of times.

Meetings, events, networking and sometimes lectures or talks, get a bad wrap these days. The fear of imposing or worse having a bad event that people can’t wait to get out of is a real dilemma for anyone who gathers people together.

In Ms. Parker’s excellent book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, she lays out why meetings and gatherings of people fail and how make a real difference in your own events whether they be for business or in your personal life.

One of the first items that Ms. Parker addresses is that we rarely define and share what the purpose of a meeting is, and to make matter worse when we do, we often confuse category with purpose. For example, what is the purpose of birthday party, wedding, dinner party, or baby shower? If thoughts immediately turn to celebrate getting one year older, getting married, food with friends, or a celebration of pregnancy; Ms. Parker points out that these are the categories of the event not the purpose. To think about why we have a birthday party on a particular year allows us to create something with more meaning at a moment in time.

In addition, The Art of Gathering shows that people meet in particular forms as a type of ritual. We continue with the ritual form because it can show belonging to a group or hierarchy – or just because change is hard. However, the purpose of the meeting may no longer fit the ritual, or the purpose may have drifted over time. Baby showers, for example, were originally held with the purpose of helping to prepare new parents to become a family. While in the past, looking after children was the sole responsibility of women, and so a woman only baby shower made sense; today most parents share parenting duties. Does is therefore still make sense to make a baby shower a female only affair? Likewise does a newsroom need to hold a single mid-morning meeting to decide on what will be printed on tomorrow’s front page, when articles can be published online as soon as they are written and will have a potentially higher readership? In a time before the internet, the front page of a newspaper could often be the make or break or a reporter’s career or a newspaper’s business – those days have gone, but the rituals often continue.  

Gatherings with purpose take a stand. This will not be liked by everyone; however, rarely are gatherings where everyone is happy enthralling. The more focused and narrow the purpose, the more passion it is likely to provoke. When we stop thinking about “what” and start thinking about “why” we start to find the beliefs and values that create purpose. Working backward from an outcome can also help figure out whether a meeting should even happen in the first place.

The Art of Gathering covers purpose, preparation, invitations, content, the host’s role, starting and endings, and why all of these matter. We can’t complaint about lackluster meetings if we are not prepared to think about the why and how we are meeting. And since we so rarely think about these things Ms. Parker’s book is breath of fresh air and an invaluable management tool.

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