This morning, I was reading a news story about Apple Inc’s succession plans. Co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was credited with turning around the company from near bankruptcy in 1997 to one with the “highest valuation of any technology company” in just 15 years.
It got me wondering. Jobs has so much media coverage today. But will anyone care (or even remember) 100 years from now?
Now, that’s speculation. But easier to validate by looking backwards. To one hundred years ago.
Who was the tech CEO darling of 1911, do you know?
Or which business barons have lasted long enough in the public memory to be iconic after so long?
I Googled 1911, and found this on Wikipedia.
On April 8, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered “Superconductivity”, the concept that powered development of MRI scanners and mass spectrometers and particle accelerators.
On December 29, Sun Yat-sen‘s revolutionaries overthrew the Qing dynasty to become the first President of the Republic of China (and he became the ‘Father of modern China’).
New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford deduced the existence of a compact atomic nucleus from scattering experiments that year.
But even mighty Google has precious little about business leaders and entrepreneurs – though there were no doubt dozens who hogged the media limelight and were ‘today’s heroes’ even in those early years!
And that got me thinking –
Who matters… 100 years later?
Obviously not the media superstars. That flash vanishes fast. So who does?
Look at yourself in the mirror.
Go on. Do it now.
What do you see grinning back at you?
That’s the composite (and evolved) result of real people who lived one hundred years before.
And their parents.
Their genes live on in YOU. You probably remember them as people. If not, you’ve heard things about them from your own parents or relatives.
At around 3 p.m. one Friday afternoon, about ten years ago, I was sitting in front of a monitor, reviewing a child’s angiogram. We were operating on her next, and I wanted to refresh my memory.
I was at one of the busiest heart hospitals in the country. We averaged 12 operations every day. About a third of them were on children. As a specialist pediatric cardiac surgeon, I loved and enjoyed the work despite the long hours and high stress.
That day, our team was running behind schedule. Not by much, but enough for our anesthesiologist to get a bit anxious. She was a talented and skilled lady, and a good friend of mine. Walking up to me, she said:
“The patient’s ready. Are you going to get scrubbed?”
“Just a minute,” I said. “I haven’t yet seen this angio fully.”
And then, she spoke the words that would change the direction my career took from there onwards.
“It doesn’t matter if you have. The surgeon has seen it already.”
I got up, and walked slowly over to the wash area.
My heart was heavy as I went through the pre-operation ritual that has remained constant over time. As I gazed numbly at the foamy bubbles that lathered my forearms, the water sluicing down to wash them away along with all germs and dirt, leaving my hands sterile to assist at the long, complex heart operation to follow, the truth of her blunt statement gnawed at my insides.
She was right.
It didn’t matter if I saw that angiogram.
I wasn’t the lead surgeon. Someone else was. And he had seen it.
I don’t recall much of the next 4 hours. I assisted at the operation mechanically. All the while, I was pondering the important issue raised by her comment.
Through the long drive back home after we finished, and a restless night that followed, I kept thinking about it.
And by next morning, I had made up my mind.
Barely a fortnight later, I resigned my position to return to another, smaller hospital where I had once trained. To a unit which was, relatively speaking, poorly equipped and under-staffed. To an environment where I couldn’t hope to put to use more than a tiny fraction of my hard-earned training and knowledge from years spent at centers of excellence in the U.K. and Australia.
I returned because, here, it matters.
That I see an angiogram.
That I examine a patient.
That I counsel a family.
That I perform an operation.
I left because, there, I was redundant. Unnecessary. Replaceable.
A tiny cog in a big machine. Easily exchanged with any other cog. Not unique, needed, or significant.
Several things have changed in my professional career since that momentous decision. Through them all, I have never once regretted leaving.
The center I left has grown to a behemoth, carrying out 150 operations every week. Where I operate today, I’d be lucky to do that in a year!
The difference is that the few children I treat won’t get operated without me being in this place.
My presence is necessary, essential, required.
It should matter that YOU see.
That YOU do.
That YOU provide value, support, purpose to the project or group or organization where you are engaged in investing the rest of your life.
I'm Dr.Mani, a pediatric heart surgeon and author. I raise funds to sponsor heart surgery for under-privileged children in India. On this blog, I'll share my thoughts, travel photos, fitness tips and book reviews.