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Premier IT Blog

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An elephant never forgets

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


Following on in our series of NHS IT Elephant blogs (well why not?) we explore “An elephant never forgets” so the saying goes.

Surviving harsh environments where food and water are spread across huge areas has no doubt tuned elephants memory, survival of the fittest “and all that”. Recent research also shows they remember smaller things related to harm and also bear grudges, for a long time. So, whilst one might argue that elephants probably can forget, they do have great memories, that’s why they are still around, let’s hope efforts to keep them here prevail.

What of not forgetting and IT within the NHS? Above and beyond the infamous change destroying “we’ve always done it that way” phrase, where we seem to cling on to our past memories and way of doing things; there’s another mind-set I’ve seen that is quite elephant like. Not because it is larger, cumbersome and is likely to get there in the end, but it is another survival tactic of the herd.

The herd is the ever-growing presence of change processes, methodologies, peers, organisations and programmes designed to deliver “large scale change”. Summarising the last few years we’ve gone from PCTs to Commissioning, we are still learning from Vanguards, STPs are here and ACTs are on their way. These programmes are designed to effect change on a large scale.

These are about quality, efficiencies and often have IT changes associated to them like EPRs, interoperability, patient record access and don’t get me wrong, these are all important; like the Elephants, they’ll get there, they simply have to.

But whilst thinking about my two eldest children, off to university soon, I chanced upon this graduation speech, no idea why I clicked on it, but the 1st of these 9 pieces of life advice from @TimMinchin (not hugely relevant) resonated, please take a listen/watch:

Ironically enough his speech starts from a review of a motivational speech to software sales people, but we move on to the relevant bit in the clip above…

Tim shares his “passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro ambitious, put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you…”

Whilst being distracted on your long path to get water, or transform of care across your service, region or area might need to avoid these small shiny distractions, there are still many, many smaller things the long goal won’t impact, at all.

Many healthcare professionals have their needs, their ideas and their passion for change, particularly in IT, quashed by these heavy, slow creatures of change as they heard together, often flattening things in their path, I certainly wouldn’t know where to start to pause, divert or stop a heard of focused, thirsty elephants.

So, how do find the balance of Elephants and Tim Minchins, achieving the big stuff and meeting the needs of those who want to make small-scale change, change that will impact now, impacting their resources, their jobs, their patients, the things that are shiny to them/you? Share your dream, we would love to dream big with you, even if the rest of the herd around you need to stay focused.



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