To read and complete this post you may use the following tools; graph paper, compass, protractor, slide ruler, a number two pencil, and a bag of Gummy Bears—from which to snack. The following problem was on the final exam in my eleventh grade physics class. Let us give this a shot and then see if we can tie it into anything relevant.
A Rhesus monkey is in the branch of a tree thirty-seven feet above the ground. The monkey weights eight pounds. You are hunting in Africa, and are three hundred and twenty yards from the monkey. You have a bolt-action, reverse-bore (spins the shell counter-clockwise as it leaves the gun barrel) Huntington rifle capable of delivering a projectile at 644 feet per second. The bullet weighs 45 grams. The humidity is seventy percent, and the temperature in Scotland is twelve degrees Celsius.
At the exact moment the monkey hears the rifle fire it will jump off the branch and begin to fall. Using this information, exactly where do you have to aim to make sure you hit the monkey?
I used every piece of information available to try to solve this. I made graphs and ran calculations until there was no more data left to crunch, computing angles and developing new formulas. I calculated the curvature of the earth, and the effect Pluto’s—the former planet, not the dog—gravitational pull had on the bullet.
The one thing that never occurred to me was that since the monkey was falling to the ground, so was the bullet—gravity. The bullet and the monkey both fall at the same rate because gravity acts on both the same way. So, where to aim to hit the monkey? Aim at the monkey.
All of the other information was irrelevant, extraneous. The funny thing about extraneous information is that it causes us to look at it, to focus on it. We think it must be important, and so we divert attention and resources to it, even when the right answer is staring us in the eye.
Attempting to improve patient satisfaction is a lot like hunting monkeys. We know what we need to do and yet we are distracted by all of this extraneous information that will hamper our chances of being successful. The most obvious distractions are all of the things we did to improve it other than asking the patient about their expectations. Hiring the “six sigmaists” to shave thirty-two seconds off admissions is one of those distractions.