Friday, May 17, 2013

Boulders and Making A Life Better

Bolders bring out the best in us, and boulders consequently bring out the best in life - our relationships with others.

That was the message that Aron Ralston delivered to an enraptured audience at NCCI's Annual Issues Symposium (AIS) yesterday.

Coincidentally I had read his book - Between a Rock and a Hard Place - several years ago on a transcontinental flight traveling to and from Florida for a conference (might have even been an NCCI conference).

Ralston is the outdoorsman who was hiking the Utah badlands when a rock slipped as he was climbing down into a crevasse and pinned his hand so he couldn't move - and after 6 days he cut his hand off to escape.

Wow - what a tremendously powerful speaker and story. It was one of the most awe-inspiring speeches I had ever heard: lively, engaging, dramatic, comical, with a powerful, powerful message that he dramatizes in the most extraordinary manner. 

I started a standing ovation for him when he was done, I was so moved by his speech.

The boulder that had his hand pinned became his metaphor for obstacles in life.

His primary message - boulders, when confronted and dealt with directly, bring out the best of us and as a consequence, of life. 

Everyone encounters boulders in life. Some are small, some are large. Some are personal, some are institutional. 

The challenge in life is not to avoid boulders, because that is impossible, but to confront boulders directly and to deal with them. Only in taking on the boulders can we grow and appreciate what life truly is about, and thus appreciate and deal with our own limitations.

Survivalists are taught an acronym - S.T.O.P.: Stop (i.e. slow down, don't panic, so that you can...), Think (get a clear head, you have to be able to examine the...), Options (there are always options and some are better than others, but until you stop and think you can't see the options, and once you have identified the options you....), Plan (set up the plans to extricate one's self from the boulder that has you pinned).

The message - don't panic. Take the available time necessary to examine the situation so you can craft the best possible solution.

Sometimes that solution isn't very palatable, but it may be the only solution and so we need to plan the execution of that solution carefully and understand the consequences of our action.

In Ralston's case, his only solution was to cut off his arm. He faced smaller boulders though - his knife wasn't sharp so he had to stab with it. But then he encountered bone ... forgot about that detail ... so he had to use his body weight to leverage against the boulder to break the bones to finish cutting.

He improvised a tourniquet, and had the good fortune to time his exit just as a family of hikers was in the area and could summon help.

In the face of extreme adversity, Ralston came up with solutions that ultimately, with a little luck, saved his life.

Indeed, changed his life.

Ralston unwittingly made a direct correlation to the workers' compensation industry in his personal observation about our Purpose in Life: it is simply to enrich the lives of others to make their lives better.

So simple.

And when we get down to the very basics of workers' compensation, that is the fundamental purpose of our jobs - to enrich the lives of others to make their lives better.

This is the Zen of workers' compensation.

At the NCCI AIS there was plenty of actuarial talk, lots of numbers, statistics, data, big picture overview stuff that insurance wonks love to describe with big, confusing, multi-syllabic terms.

But what all of these numbers and statistics actually mean are the real world is the business side of making the lives of those who get into bad situations better.

Of course Ralston didn't know that his interpretation of the purpose in life was such a powerful metaphor for the workers' compensation industry. Ralston was talking about relationships and how, when he was recording what he thought would be his last words, his focus was on saying good bye to family and friends - the things that really matter in life and for which there is little appreciation until one faces death while still living.

I always learn a lot at the NCCI AIS every year. This year I learned much more than I usually do.

Today, forget about the costs, the utilization review or treatment guidelines. Forget about rates, premiums, fraud, opioids, liens.

Instead, make someone's life better. That is your job.

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