Lessons from Dr. House

By | October 7, 2022

“There are three choices in life: be good, get good, or give up.” – Dr. House

There is nothing quite like revisiting an old, beloved tv show. I’m talking about the type of show you can have on in the background while you do other things, and you pick up at any place and know exactly what’s going on. Two universally beloved examples that spring to mind are Friends and The Office. They are like a warm, fluffy blanket or a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup – total comfort.
One of my comfort shows that I recently dug back into for a binge-watch was House. If you are unfamiliar, House was a medical drama with definite comic elements, starring Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House. I think the word misanthrope was explicitly created to describe Dr. House. He leads a team of doctors who work to diagnose complex cases. House is a troubled character, to say the least, but the show itself provides some great insights into the different dynamics of people and working in teams – you know, the good, the bad, and the ugly. These are lessons that we can take into the workplace and daily life.

The Value of a Diverse Team
On the show, House works with a diverse squad of thinkers, doctors and hospital administrators, each with unique medical specialties. The team’s makeup is critical to their success in diagnosing unusual cases. What was particularly interesting was the characters’ different specialties and how each thinks and approaches problem-solving differently. The real value of the team’s uniqueness was how they process and communicate information.
When I think about the team in our office, and likely many of your offices, the best teams, the ones that function really well, are not filled with six people who are all hyper-analytical or six take-charge personalities. On the contrary, those tend to be the teams who struggle.

Instead, the high-performing teams are comprised of a mix of people. This can include:
• The leader, who can steer the team and keep everyone on track,
• a creative, thinking outside of the box type,
• the researcher who gathers essential, relevant information,
• a planner who creates the path to get things done
• the communicator who will articulate and share information well
• and of course, the analyzer, who looks at all sides of the situation to maximize results

So why are there so many teams who aren’t complimentary? Most of this can point to one factor – poor hiring. We frequently hire people who are just like us. They look like us, and they think like us. Often, we tend to judge other people who don’t think like we do and can isolate or silo them instead of looking at their unique point of view as valuable.  It’s also not unusual for people to give up too quickly on team members that approach things differently. It’s essential to make time for a team to work through growing pains and address them with intention.
Indeed, other types of players can help to make a successful team. Still, the important point is that diverse thinking, different styles of communication, and distinctive people skills are vital to the success of teams.

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One of the hallmarks of high-functioning teams is their ability to collaborate. The benefits of highly collaborative teams are numerous: significant problem solving, employees learning from one another, increased productivity, healthier and more engaged employees, among many others.
Much like the makeup of teams, great teams are not filled with people who go along to get along. Collaboration can be filled with challenges and disagreements, but strong teams know how to work through these disagreements and frequently turn challenges into wins. Particularly when there is conflict, it’s crucial for the healthy functioning of good teams to develop a thick skin, allowing you to move on to the next project or problem and not carry along unnecessary baggage. This is another area where House did not excel – he had a steel trap for a mind and would never miss an opportunity to bring up past mistakes. It certainly was not a quality that endeared him to the team.
I know that the work environment may never be the same as it was before the pandemic. In some ways, this is a good thing when we think about the flexibility and work/life balance that these shifts can bring about. But in another precise manner, I frequently miss the value of spending time with a team, all together, in the same room.
Brainstorming, spitballing, problem-solving – whatever you call it – always seemed to work better for me when everyone was in the same physical location. I really miss the opportunity to stop by a colleague’s office and “let me run something by you!” We all know how different this feels compared to a Teams or Zoom meeting. The level of engagement is better, the flow of ideas and information is more free-flowing, and the overall results tend to be more impressive.
I’m not advocating that we return to everything being in person, and there are certainly plenty of good, productive meetings happening virtually. However, I encourage you to think about the times when face-to-face collaborative meetings would be beneficial. I believe these types of collective meetings can be invigorating and exciting for you and your colleagues.
The other important takeaway here is the concept of running good meetings. Unnecessary meetings are so ubiquitous that there are memes, coffee mugs, notepads, and more emblazoned with “This meeting could have been an email!” Learning how to run an effective, productive meeting garners good results and teams that function and communicate well together.

Avoid the Minutiae
This is a big challenge for people in leadership positions. So few people rise to the top of their fields by being overly focused on details. Quite the contrary, most people achieve their success by being audacious thinkers. Of course, this point underscores the need for that team of diverse people – we know that someone must be focusing on the details, and it should be someone who excels at that piece of the puzzle.
Back to House, would his team be successful if they had to think of all the administrative red tape and intricacies? Likely not, but of course, that’s an equally important piece of the overall success of a health system. There are countless examples in the show when House ignores policy and proceeds with what he thinks is best for the patient. It’s challenging to act and ask for forgiveness later versus working through company policy.
How do you work to be that audacious thinker who is supported by all the necessary personalities and skills to achieve success?

Realistic Assessment and Perseverance
If you’ve ever seen House, you’d no doubt agree that no one would ever compliment Dr. House on his bedside manner. Additionally, House had a loose relationship with the truth. Usually, at least once an episode, he’d say, “everyone lies…” and would frequently lie to patients and others if it served his purpose.
This is an excellent example of what NOT to take from House. I think concerning business, one of the big takeaways is honesty. Honesty does not equate to being cruel, and that phrase “brutally honest” really should be on the way out. It’s possible to deliver an honest take or assessment that is still kind and constructive without being harsh.
When it comes to Dr. House, this is a slippery slope. He was given a lot of rope because he got results and solved cases that others could not. In today’s world, most people would fire House; his results just are not worth the destruction left in his wake.
Team members will only be honest consistently if it is supported by respected leadership and never used against them. At the same time, team members have a responsibility to hold up their end, not get offended or upset when things don’t go as planned or wanted. The team needs to have the ability to learn and assess and shake things off and get back at it.  How many times have we heard, “Life is short – we can have anything!” The reality is, no, we can’t. We can, however, aspire to anything, but it’s important to acknowledge that we rarely get it just because we want it.
Currently, younger generations struggle against a system that we built for them. Many think they will get what they want if they simply work towards it, demand it, fight for it, even just say they want it. Whatever IT is, this idea of entitlement – is permeating into many things and often runs headlong into reality. We can’t all be the CEO or top salesperson of the year. But that does not mean we stop aspiring.
Working towards important goals and challenging ourselves keeps us fresh and engaged in the business. Constantly learning new tools and methods makes us sharper and provides many advantages, not the least of which is that we look modern and engaged with changing trends.
If you aspire for your team to look to you for your wisdom and guidance, it befits you to build a team around you that creates this House-type problem-solving environment (of course, without the hostility). You aren’t looking for a team to answer basic scenarios like a family of four planning for college, retirement, and taxes. Imagine what complex, unique financial planning looks like – maybe for people like Elon Musk or Bill Gates who own multiple companies, in many states, have complicated family situations – it’s a more complex and challenging opportunity.

“There are three choices in life: be good, get good, or give up.” – Dr. House

Always Be Innovating
I’m having difficulty remembering the last time I wrote a piece like this when I DIDN’T mention the importance of innovation. It is the one constant that supports every piece of business advice we provide.
Many schools of thought believe that collaboration is the key to innovation. Because everyone brings unique skills and characteristics to the team, the power to spark innovation is incredible. When teams work well together, the differences are enhanced and allow for a melding of viewpoints and a comprehensive approach to innovation.
When collaborative teams are problem-solving, innovation comes naturally – it doesn’t need to be named “Innovation Hour,” it’s simply a group of people working together to solve a problem or make a better product or experience. The speed with which collaborative teams can be innovative is impressive, and they can make associations that would not happen in a vacuum and push each other to implementation.
The hurdle to time and effort isn’t ample. Do you implement new ideas, or are you too concerned with the risk – so instead, you only ever talk – not act? Risk and ambiguity are the real hurdles – not time and effort.
Looking back to the quote I shared to kick off this article; I hope we strive to eliminate the third option and work very hard at the first and second ideas.

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About the Author/Host

John Pojeta

John Pojeta - Vice President of Business Development

John researches new types of business and manages and initiates strategic, corporate-level relationships to expand exposure for The PT Services Group. John came to The PT Services Group in 2011. Before that, he owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years.

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