Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fixing the World is Whose Responsibility?

This week I attended a session on quality improvement in healthcare practice. The definition of quality is subjective. What may appear to be "high-quality" to me, may not stand up to external scrutiny. There could always be room for improvement. But this is not a big problem. Some level of objectivity can be attained in measuring quality by using tools like standards. We can easily figure out areas that are below par and areas that are good enough. Identifying problems and areas to work on is not a problem at all.

The real challenge is in identifying responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to fix the problems? Sometimes fixing a problem is much easier than figuring out who the right person to fix the problem is. Most often it is not. Most often fixing problems require persistent effort and continuous follow-up. It takes time, energy, even money. And depending up on the scale of problems, these things can easily blow up. There are also some problems which have quick-fix solutions that are less sustainable than the proper but energy-intensive solutions.

After some months of joining Vivekananda Memorial Hospital, there was one evening when I was in the reading room. Dr Kumar who is now the CEO of SVYM walked in and asked me how things were. The conversation somehow came to my anger at the medical education system and how there was a lot of corruption in medical colleges. I was furious about my own alma mater and told him how I would never want to step foot in that college again. Dr Kumar, incidentally, had done his post-graduation in the same college and could relate to what I was talking about. But then, he told me the story of how he worked with, through, and for the system and made it better. He told me how he would challenge and oppose, yet be dear to the administrators. He told me how he could improve things at least by a bit while he was working there.

The transformation in my mind was instant (similar to how MAB once made me rethink the way I look at a disinterested audience). I, who was seething with anger at the system, suddenly saw possibilities. I could see the difference between productive contributions and blind criticisms. More importantly, I learned the concept of agency. I was no longer feeling helpless or like a hapless victim of the system. I was feeling like a person who could bring about change but was not yet utilizing my full powers.

The stories of Ananth Kumar, SVYM, Taru Jindal, Lalitha & Regi, and every other inspirational stories I've heard in the recent past demonstrate that simple principle. That if you put energy and effort, things will change. That even one individual matters.

I think the question of whose responsibility is it to fix things can arise of two things. One, the feeling that I cannot fix something because I'm powerless. That is a logic consistently proved wrong by many of these people I mentioned in the previous paragraph. But there is a second, more difficult reason people might choose not to fix problems. That is when I choose to not fix a problem because I don't have the time/energy to because I devote it elsewhere (in a place that I think is more important to focus on and solve problems in).

This second reason, is in my opinion, the bigger problem. This is the reason why even talented people can fail to deliver. Changing the system through innovation or persistence requires dedicated effort. It requires someone to show up regularly and stand up for the cause. It is the same as making a successful startup or raising healthy young children. It requires a lot of smart work. It requires productivity.

It all should start from the realization that every great person who has walked on this planet has had only 24 hours in their day - the same number of hours everyone else has in their day. What really matters is how much we can draw out of those hours. And for various reasons, not everyone is equally privileged to draw the same value from their days.

But what is really worth thinking about, is whether we are drawing the maximum value we can. Because if you can find a way to cut the cruft and get more work done, you might find just enough time to fix the world too.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

How to Travel In Bangalore - Get A BMTC Bus Pass

I've now spent more than an year using the public transport in Bangalore and made the best investment only this month. That is the BMTC bus pass.

Previously my commute was fully reliant on metro, but recently I joined MetaString foundation where I have to take the road to reach. There is a direct airport bus from where I stay to the office. The BMTC app gives a fair sense of where the buses are and how quickly I have to run to catch them. But giving 80 rupees in change every time I take a ticket was a pain. And unlike the metro, BMTC hasn't introduced smart cards yet. That's where the passes come in.

There are three classes of bus pass. The cheapest ones are 1050 including tax and lets you ply only in ordinary buses (non-AC). The next slab is 2363 which allows you to travel in volvo buses as well, but doesn't let you get on Vayu Vajra (airport bus). For the last category there is a 3570 rupees pass that lets you "yelli bekadru odaadubodu" (run around anywhere). But even that gold pass won't let you go in Bangalore Rounds bus (I have never seen a Bangalore Rounds bus). On the other hand, gold pass gives you a travel insurance which covers accidents.

I got my gold pass from Majestic (Kempegowda Bus station). But just getting the pass is not enough. You also have to get a BMTC id card. The ID card can be obtained on the other side of the bus pass issuing window of Majestic. You have to give a stamp size photo, your address, and phone number here which they enter sloppily in a register. The ID card has to match the pass and that's how they ensure that two people don't use the same pass.

The biggest advantage the bus pass provides me (even though it makes no economic sense for me who don't go to the airport every day) is the mobility. WIth the bus pass you can get on any bus and travel for any distance. This lets you make on-the-fly (pun intended) decisions about changing route/direction/bus. If there are better buses starting from the next stop, you can get on in any bus in the current stop, get down at the next stop, and switch to the better bus.

Additionally, the conductor can no longer make you feel guilty about not having change.

And above all, you save the environment. Less the Uber, less the traffic, less the pollution, faster the buses.

PS: I also got a new wirless keyboard. I'm now composing this blog post from a Vayu Vajra bus through my phone.

PPS: Also checkout "moovit" app which is a citizen app for travel information.

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