Quicksilver: A Revolutionary Way to Lead the Many and the Few- Beginning with You

Quicksilver: A Revolutionary Way to Lead the Many and the Few- Beginning with You  by Michale O’Brien and Larry Shook is the best book that I have read in decades.  What makes it so good?  The insights and the clear way in which they are communicated are compelling.

The central tenet of this book is that catastrophes, such as global economic meltdowns and NASA tragedies, are caused by normal thinking, which stems from overconfidence in our own thought processes (p.xvii).  The word quicksilver is a synonym for mercury and a metaphor for suddenness and unpredictability.  Our minds may be changing the world, but we are not changing our minds to match the world that we are creating (p.11).

I have written that conflict is inevitable in times of rapid change, but the authors take insight to a higher level when they point out that leaders stop leading when they make others responsible for breakdowns (p.67).  Dealing with a medical staff in crisis showed the extent to which community service is jeopardized by feelings of disrespect.

To declare that something should not occur is life’s ultimate whine, aka “no fair” (p.69).  Affixing blame is impotence not leadership (p.68).  On the other hand, substituting could for should causes one to ask, “What do I want my colleagues to do, and how can I support them?” (p. 71).  Curiosity triggers creativity (p.72).  Paraphrasing Churchill, the authors wrote that the could road traverses the sunlit uplands of the eternal now (p.74).

In Three Painful Collaborative Learning Experiences,  I summarized another important Quicksilver insight.  We experience four fears (p.130):

  • Appearing stupid, foolish, or idiotic
  • Being unmasked as a pretender or a fraud
  • Feeling like an outcast
  • Looking weak, powerless, or ineffective

The authors reminded us that a leader’s challenge is to set aside his (her) story long enough to hear other people’s stories (p.147). Generous, curious inquiry enables leaders to have breakthrough conversations, where ideas rather than people are on trial (p.171). What we resist, persists (p.168).

I know that I am not doing justice summarizing this outstanding book.  Please read it for yourself and comment on what its message means to you.  As always, I welcome your input to improve healthcare collaboration.

Kenneth H. Cohn

© 2012, all rights reserved

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