After eight seasons on the air, House M.D. went off the air in 2012. The show might be gone, but the thinking that made it tick still works today. Even for our business.
Dr. Gregory House was a complicated character. He was the top doctor at the fictional Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and was often known for his ego, arrogance, and general distrust of the human species. He was a skeptic, a detective, and a genius all while remaining mostly likable. I always loved the show for one reason – House may have been rude and obnoxious, but he was always right in the end. How can we not love a character like that?
After watching the series finale earlier this year, I couldn’t help but do a quick diagnosis of what made House tick. I quickly realized that one of the biggest things that House did right was how he approached getting things done.
Getting Things Done
A universal truth that we all face is the simple need to get things done. No matter if we sell batteries or airplanes, there will always be a list of things that we need to do. Most of these tasks are small – buy this, call so-and-so back — that kind of thing. Easy enough. But what abou the bigger tasks? What about the big ideas, the new projects, and the extreme ventures with tons of risk? How do we tackle those?
Let’s let House M.D. provide a little diagnosis.
Why House Was Good
House was awesome at getting things done. Every episode, he would solve a major medical case in less that 60 minutes minus commercials. Maybe not realistic, but let’s look at how he did it.
1. He Dug In
House never let a problem stop him. In fact, problems only propelled him forward. The bigger the problem, the more interest he would take. Too often, we let the unknown scare us. Great doers like House don’t let problems scare them.
2. He Would Treat What He Knew
House realized that plans that work are those that are the most violently executed, not the best planned. Intensity matters. House made the best decision possible based on the information he had, and passionately carried it out. Confidence in our decision making is imperative to getting things done. Part of that depends on our ability to understand our own limitations, which leads us to the next point.
3. He Learned What He Didn’t Know
Knowing we don’t know leaves us willing to learn. The benefit of treating a patient based on the information already in our possession is that we are guaranteed to learn something every time. By making a decision and moving forward with what he knew, House learned what he didn’t already know in the process.
4. He Didn’t Let Anyone Stop Him
House used creativity to get what he wanted. Risky requests always meant a struggle to convince the higher-ups. Working within the system may have slowed him down, but he never let it stop him. Roadblocks weren’t an excuse. Getting things done required determination.
5. He Never Apologized For Trying
House never apologized for his methods, even though they occasionally created undesired results. He knew that each misstep was a key part of the final solution. He knew that in order to make decisions, we couldn’t be paralyzed by a fear of mistakes. In fact, his process required mistakes. Forging ahead in the face of adversity is almost always the right thing to do.
The House GTD Cycle
Every week, House and his team would execute the same routine. They would gather data, make a good guess as to what was wrong, and then treat the patient as if they knew they were right. This method occasionally had unfortunate consequences. It wasn’t always safe. But it always lead to something important.
This constant cycle of gather, guess, and treat would always lead House and his team to some sort of knowledge that they didn’t have before. They would learn more about the patient, or understand a new variable that they hadn’t considered. This process allowed House to bring the pieces together that would eventually solve the case. As he inched along, he slowly became better equipped to make the diagnosis that would eventually lead him to success.
Without this process, he may have never learned what he needed to know.
Fear Of Guessing
Often, we’re afraid of moving forward because we don’t know what’s to come. We become isolated in the realization of our limited knowledge of the future, and become terrified of doing something wrong. We’re afraid to guess, because we can’t be assured of where it might lead. What if it was ok to move forward, even if we don’t have it all figured out? Can we apply this to whatever it is that we do?
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week. – George S. Patton
House made best guesses, and was often wrong. It wasn’t his guessing that made him great, it was his ability to stick to the cycle of learning from what came from them, and moving ahead.
The Detective Work
Throughout the series, there are many similarities that arise between Gregory House and the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The story-behind-the-story concept sheds a lot of light on the cycle that made House great. House approached problems like a detective investigating a case rather than a genius that knew it all. All to often, we fail to move forward because we know that we aren’t a genius. We need embrace the process of learning just as much as we embrace the idea of success.
Learning is success. If we attack a problem with all cylinders and fail, we will inevitably know more than we did before. If we choose to learn, analyze, and re-guess we can build the same momentum that made House, M.D. the genius at the end of each episode. Even though his tactics infuriated many, the results he produced often outweighed that frustration.
For House, the process of learning was the process of getting things done. So, don’t be afraid. Take stock of a situation, take a guess, and go do something today.