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Grace, providence and my new job

10 Aug

“Providence.” That’s how Sister Mary Kieffer, OP, explained it.

The moment that word left her lips, I knew it was exactly the word I was seeking, had been struggling to put my finger on, but had yet to identify. The explanation. Providence.

Sister Mary is a member of the community of Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. She works in the Spiritual Care department of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev., where I just accepted the position of director of marketing. Saint Mary’s, now part of Catholic Healthcare West, was founded in 1908 by the Dominican Sisters.[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]

From the very beginning of my journey toward this specific job, which I begin Aug. 23, I had a sense that this was meant to be, that I was going to be at Saint Mary’s for a reason – a reason beyond my background and abilities.

One of those reasons is my connection to the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. I am an alumna of one of their high schools, Saint Rose Academy, once the oldest private girls’ school in San Francisco. Saint Rose was a happy, formative place for me, although I had a different background from the typical girl there: I’m not Catholic, and had not progressed through the parochial elementary schools of San Francisco like just about every other student. Well, technically I did, but it was a Lutheran school, not Catholic.

Drawing of Saint Rose Academy

Saint Rose's building on the corner of Pierce and Pine was destroyed in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

My once-lovely high school was “killed” in the great Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. The stately white building, which was located on the corner of Pierce and Pine streets, was damaged so severely it had to be closed. And sadly, the demographics and economics of San Francisco did not support the Sisters rebuilding or even continuing. The students were folded into the Jesuits’ St. Ignatius College Prep, formerly an all-boys school, and the site became a parking lot for St. Dominic’s Church next door.

I didn’t know until recently that there was anything left of Saint Rose, when I discovered this online trying to reconnect with classmates:

… a remnant of St. Rose Academy can still be found in Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto—but the beloved shrine barely survived the wrecking ball. Sitting amidst the rubble that surrounded St. Rose Academy following the 1989 earthquake, the grotto gradually became overgrown by the gnarly decorative vines that surrounded it. Crews that arrived to demolish the damaged school were about to bulldoze the overgrown mound when St. Dominic’s Father Martin Walsh realized what was happening and hurried to the site to throw himself in front of the bulldozers and save the shrine. Thanks to his rescue, it remains intact to provide a peaceful oasis rising amidst the asphalt of today’s parking lot.

When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I felt drawn to visit the grotto, which indeed is a lovely oasis surrounded by small plantings.

As I sat in reflection among the lavender and roses, I noticed a hummingbird hovering nearby. At first, I purely marveled at its beauty, and at seeing one in the city in the middle of a parking lot. Several days later, though, I was hit with a realization that it really meant something else.

It was grace.


Two great quotes from healthTap

8 Aug

Two quotes from healthTap‘s blog caught my attention this week. Both Esther Dyson and Thomas Goetz are big names in their fields, obviously, and what they have to say speaks to my interests and purpose:[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]

It turns out that understanding and promoting health is a great application of information technology. Health increasingly involves numbers.
− Esther Dyson

The editor of Wired sees possibility:

The potential for individuals, armed with good information and clear advice, to act a little smarter and live a little better.
Thomas Goetz

Next up: Reading their Ron Gutman entries.

p.s. Oh, and healthTap, noticed you on #hcsm tonight too. Welcome.

Delivering happiness in health care

7 Aug

“Envision, create and believe in your own universe.”

I received an advance blogger copy of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose in June. Hsieh is best known as CEO of, the online shoe source he grew from nothing to more than $1 billion in gross sales, now owned by Amazon. Originally, I planned to review as a general business book. Now that I’ve repurposed and refocused, I’m re-reviewing in light of the lessons it holds for health care marketers.

book cover image

Delivering Happiness is perhaps the most charming business book ever – at least of those I’ve read. Hsieh’s strength as an author is his storytelling, beginning with the worm-farm yarn in Chapter 1. Unlike most business writers, by the end of the book we know about Hsieh’s childhood entrepreneurial ventures (and failures), how he took advantage of crowdsourcing as a Harvard student to get good grades with little effort on his part and his one-time love of serious poker. It’s probably the only book that’s turned the PLUR principle Hsieh learned at raves – Peace, Love, Unity, Respect – into a business mantra.

[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]And the stories he tells in the first portion of the book make the final third sing. Quite frankly, if Hsieh had just regurgitated his business vision, and thoughts on culture and customer service, in book form there would be no reason to listen. I mean, come on, who would pay just to read about another company’s vision? But because the reader knows Zappos’, and Hsieh’s, story by the time we get to that part of the book, his talk about the importance of brand and culture hits some high notes.

Hsieh’s biggest point isn’t about business, but life: There has to be meaning behind what you do.  Money alone isn’t enough – as he discovered after he walked away with $30 million in his pocket at age 24 after selling a company he co-founded, LinkExchange, to Microsoft. Without passion, there’s no satisfaction. Hsieh’s underlying message: What companies should be doing is implementing core values, focusing more on customer service, company culture and employee happiness. Those companies that do, according to Hsieh, actually improve their financial performance as well.

Health care is perfectly enabled to deliver the kind of passion Hsieh refers to. Like Hsieh, I’m also a sometime student of the burgeoning science of happiness. According to Hsieh, research from the field is confirming that the combination of physical synchrony with other humans and being part of something bigger than oneself leads to a greater sense of happiness. Isn’t that what health care is all about?

In the final chapter of the book, Hsieh turns his efforts personally to the reader and outlines what is known about the science of happiness. Happiness is really about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness and being part of something bigger than yourself. One of health care’s weaknesses, at least in the acute care environment, is perceived control. I think that’s behind a lot of nurse, allied health professional and caregiver burnout.

One could say Delivering Happiness is completely choppy – the first third is really Hseih’s story, from Harvard to LinkExchange to venture capitalist and Zappos. The middle third, which is mostly about Zappos, is not really written by Hsieh – he includes segments from at least 12 guest contributors. And the very last chapter is about positive psychology and how to apply it to your life. However, given what we learn about Hsieh starting on page 1, it holds together. It makes sense. That’s who he is, what he stands for and what he believes in – the underlying message of the book. It’s the universe he wanted to create.

Five readings to shape your management thinking

18 May

The spring semester, my first in the MBA program, is over — a rich time of learning. It was also rich in reading material, especially in Management and Organizational Science. I have an almost three-inch-high stack of paper to remember the class, with more than 368 pages of case studies, academic articles and news stories. (Not counting the textbook readings.)

When new (or familiar) management problems arise in my work life, I plan to seek out the wisdom of these readings, so I catalogued this treasure trove in a binder for future reference. I decided to create a Top Five most-useful/most-meaningful/most-interesting list while I was at it. You can find links to the original articles (sometimes for a fee) in the posts:

  1. Get Rid of the Performance Review! Samuel A. Culbert, a management professor at UCLA, is on a mission to revamp the performance review, with a book on the subject which came out in April.
  2. Case Study: Compensation and Performance Evaluation at Arrow Electronics. I especially loved the case studies. It was really hard to pick only one, but this one really got my ire up.
  3. Strategies of Effective New Product Team Leaders. If you need to build or rebuild a team, this article provides practical, concrete strategies.
  4. Evidence-Based Management. I titled my blog post My No. 1 Top Hit. It still stands. I’m now a huge Bob Sutton/Jeffrey Pfeffer fan.
  5. The Dean’s Disease: How the Darker Side of Power Manifests Itself in the Office of Dean. While this article may appear at first glance to narrowly focus on academia, it’s broadly applicable to any organization.

Five more readings which almost made my list:

  1. “To a United Pilot, The Friendly Skies Are a Point of Pride; Capt. Flanagan Goes to Bat For His Harried Passengers; Still, Some Online Skeptics.”
  2. Good to Great, or Just Good?
  3. “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel: U.S. Officer Broke the Rules To Let His Men Take In Young Dachau Survivor.”
  4. The Men’s Warehouse: Success in a Declining Industry
  5. Treadway Tire Company: Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at the Lima Plant

Guest post on Mary Jo Asmus’ Aspire blog

1 Apr

The greatest leader I’ve ever worked with, bar none, is Lynn S. Atcheson. I was recently asked to write a guest post on leadership and relationships for Mary Jo Asmus’ Aspire-CS blog. Guess who I wrote about?

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Thanks, Lynn, for inspiring me still.

Poop power to the people!

1 Apr

In the lab: Chuck's on the left. Victor's in back. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek.

My husband, Víctor Vásquez, is developer of poop power – coming soon to a sewage-treatment plant near you! Seriously. Víctor is a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. He and his colleague, Chuck Coronella, have developed a technology for removing excess water from sewage-treatment plant sludge and turning the dried-out sludge into energy. It’s brown power, people!

[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]See, your average friendly neighborhood sewage-treatment plant produces huge quantities of relatively clean sludge (relatively, I said). The sludge is just leftover, spent-out bacteria who did all their business to, ahem, clean up your business. In this too-wet state the sludge is rather useless. And heavy. So most municipalities pay huge amounts of money to truck tons of treated sewage to landfills just to get rid of it. I recall from one of Víctor’s proposals that this equates to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for New York City alone.

But there’s still energy locked up in the sludge — if only you could get rid of the remaining moisture. It’s too expensive to dry the sludge using traditional methods, because it’s full of bonded water still. Drying uses either too much space (think drying the sludge in the sun) or more energy to dry it out (think hair dryer) than you would gain from drying.

So Víctor and Chuck developed a fluidized-bed technology to dry out the sludge economically. Then, the dried sludge can be gasified on site to help run the plant, and excess power can even be sold back to the grid. Cool, huh?

Their pilot project starts operation this spring at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility. If successful, their patent-pending technology could be applied to sewage-treatment plants all over the world. Here’s a recent feature on Reno’s KTVN:

Or see the story on the University of Nevada, Reno website.

Better late than never: Nevada Interactive Media Summit mini-cap

25 Mar

I attended the Nevada Interactive Media Summit for the first time oh, almost three weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to posting something. I picked up lots of new sites/applications to try, although I realize that may not be everyone’s cup of tea for learning from an all-day event. (In fact, another attendee made a complaint to that effect.) I’ll be interested to see how this event morphs going forward to meet the needs of its audience. It was great to meet Eric and Ashley Jennings of Loopshot, since I had just admired their custom CMS work for the Nevada Museum of Art via a Brad Bartlett presentation at an AIGA Reno Tahoe meeting. Love how the NMA site’s entire color scheme changes as a function of the temperature gauge in the upper-left-hand corner!
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One of the richest app-heavy presentations at NIM was from Colin Loretz and Annie Vranizan. I’m always looking for a better to-do list — due to my switch to Android, I still mourn the loss of my Palm Date Book Plus calendar with floating events. I’m eager to try TeuxDeux (OK, the cutesy name got me) and Ta-Da List, among others. RescueTime is amusing — it tracks what software and web sites you’re using and how much so you can cut out the time sucks. Uh-oh!

More from Colin and Annie:  50 Apps to Fuel Your Online Business

Bryan Landaburu was also heavy on app recommendations. Amazing — there are now low-end options for heat maps, such as Crazy Egg and AttentionWizard. See his subheads on Testing and Analytics for more: Modern Marketing, Simplified from Nevada Interactive Media Conference 2010