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Gawande 1We are all in our own ways striving to improve what we do. But there is something particularly inspiring in the way that Atul Gawande, a surgeon in Boston, thinks about improving his own professional practice and the medical profession as a whole.


His book Better provides a determined and fascinating set of essays. One, for example, celebrates the abilities of doctors in India and in the Gulf War to innovate and improve services, despite being staggeringly under-resourced. Another focuses on diligent measurement of medical outcomes achieved for example through the invention of the Apgar score for newborn babies. Others tackle complex ethical dilemmas surrounding specific medical procedures and contexts, or the ongoing problem of getting doctors to wash their hands to a sufficiently high standard of hygiene.

What comes across in each of these is a shared underlying feature of success: a willingness to measure performance, reflect on it and change. Gawande himself is persistent in this, as are many of the medical personnel who feature in his accounts. A critical question then is what gives us such persistence and determination? It's clear that it underpins resilience, but what can we do to sustain and build it?

Gawande offers 5 short pieces of advice for medical students at the end: ask an unscripted question; don't complain; measure something; write something; change. They seem eminently transferable to other contexts.

In a nutshell

So why should you be interested in Learning in and through the Performing Arts?

The collaborative processes of the performing arts open a pandora's box of possibilities for artistic, personal and organizational development. They are subtle and multi-layered, embodied practices that can yield much more than what individuals bring to them, creatively and in terms of human exchange. My work is about continuing to develop these processes for the twenty-first century, so that artists can adapt to their changing contexts and enable their work to take root as creative entrepreneurs, and so that the processes of the arts can be shared and enhanced through exchange with other disciplines and across cultural contexts.