Reporter (R): Sir, I have noticed you went around the world talking about difficulties and complications derived from your professional life, rather than your successes. Could you explain the reason of such a method 'of skinning your cat'?
Old man (OM): I have rejected speaking about aspects well emphasized in standard books. There are pearls difficult to find amongst the huge amount of factual information. Now, in these last days of my career, I am cautious about the latest theory or the most famous biochemist's slides of an amazing clonation.
R: This appears to be a little unjust. What about the highly professional teams that obtain astonishing results in cancer patients by applying a definite therapy method?
OM: However, do they fit the facts as you find them? For every wonderful result, how many disasters have been quietly forgotten? The almost religious fervour with which some people hold their beliefs on this topic interferes with rational debate.
R: Why do we need a debate?
OM: It is needed to advance our understanding of a particular subject, as well as to ensure that the choosen method converges into a right and flexible way, rather than becoming trapped into the glamour of fashion. 'Beliefs', and also controlled trials without a firm rationale support enslave the mind, preventing a cool appraisal of known facts.
R: Thus, you are a sceptical, aren't you?
OM: Ah! An early plug for skepticos... This is a vital attribute to acquire as early as possible in one's career. Scepticism -in the sense of methodical doubt- is a wonderful tool for preserving your own reputation, quite apart from being the motivation force for increasing knowledge.
R: In your opinion, what is the most important principle to mantain during professional life?
OM: Ever since hearing a lawyer extolling the virtues of people adhering rigidly to their principles, for instance, 'makes people litigate because it is good for business', I have avoided if possible having any principles at all. However, one principle I have been forced to adhere to is the KISS one: "keep it simple and safe."
OM: Simplicity is actually the external appearance of clarity of thought. If one can make a problem simple, it means that his or her owns thoughts have been clarified. This in turn is perhaps the greatest factor in engendering confidence in everyone that deal with us, whether a client or a patient. The fact of not mantaining the KISS principle implies to be concentrate on the KICK one, i.e, 'keep it complicated and knotty'. Some people embracing it perhaps feel that this enhances their own uniqueness.
R: This principle seems to be too simple...
OM: Well, there are corollaries derived from it:
- Good judgement and decissions depend on attention to detail.
- Luck favours the bold.
- Discretion is the better part of valour.
- The most difficult thing is to stop a wrong way.
- Keep a personal 'disaster' book to write in our own disasters and thinking about them; we have the ability to forget our failures and only remember our successes. In other words, only make a particular mistake once.
R: Speaking about skills, do you know something else to improve our professional lives?
OM: Whatever background or technological wizardry we possess, if we do not have kindness and empathy, we are lost. Every profession is a demanding mistress. Although it is necessary to spend long hours attending to her needs, you must also not lose sight of life beyond the strict confines of your profession. We all need to be a fairly well rounded person. Life is a journey for each of us, and during this journey we keep learning. When travelling, one makes a ripple as a pebble falling into the still water of a lake. This ripple spreads ever more widely and interacts with other ripples, sometimes neutralizing them, but other times joining and providing momentum and so spreading wider and wider. In this way, each person's spirit lives on, even after death.
This 'interview' is partly based on the biography of my teacher, the British neurosurgeon Dr. Chris Adams , one of the best human beings around the world.