Business inspiration

The DO Book Club, August 2023: “Only the Paranoid Survive” and “The Ottava Method: Take Your Life Up an Octave”

Both of these books are good reads as the lazy, hazy days of summer wind to a close and the crazy-busy days of fall and winter return to the fore.


Welcome back to The DO Book Club! For August, I am reviewing “Only the Paranoid Survive,” by Andrew Grove and “The Ottava Method: Take Your Life Up an Octave,” by Corinna Muller, DO. Both of these books are good reads as the lazy, hazy days of summer wind to a close and the crazy-busy days of fall and winter return to the fore.

“Only the Paranoid Survive,” Andrew Grove, Crown Publishing (1999), 240 pp.

Remember Y2K? Remember the death and destruction that was surely going to rain down upon us for want of integers occupying the thousands and hundreds column? This book was first published early in 1999, a little before the panicked apocalyptic predictions began.

But unlike the forecasts of digital doomsday (possibly including dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria), this book has lessons that are as true and valuable today as they were then—perhaps even more so. Whether you were a Y2K prepper or not, this relatively svelte volume is still worth your time.

Author Andrew Grove was (before he died in 2016 at the age of 80) the founder and CEO of Intel—the powerhouse company that was an integral part of the personal computer revolution. But Grove’s book isn’t about computers. Yes, he details how Intel made the pivot from producing memory chips to becoming the leading maker of the microprocessors that power computers’ central processing units (CPUs)—but this isn’t some dry-as-toast technobabble from an IT wonk. This is about how businesses—all businesses—operate and, most importantly, how and why they succeed or fail.

I’m always amused by business books that I’ve seen physicians reading or quoting. A quick Google search of “business books for physicians” turned up 50 recently published titles in less than the blink of an eye. Prior to the millennium, I recall colleagues running to become something called “physician executives,” complete with a blizzard of new buzzwords—paradigm shift was my personal favorite—accompanied by a haughty “you wouldn’t understand” air of condescension for the rest of us. There were books like “The Ten Day MBA” and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (I was not one of them) that were often toted prominently around by these newly minted business wizards, mostly to remind the rest of us of our pitiable ignorance.

I bought Grove’s book back then because of the title, to be honest. And it’s still the best “business book” I’ve ever read. If you think a medical or surgical practice (like possibly your own) doesn’t operate on the exact same model that Grove describes, then I strongly advise you to think again. Or, you could grab your collection of 8-Track tapes, power up your Laser Disc player, pop the cap on a bottle of New Coke and simply stay on your present course.

I don’t want to fully summarize the book—every chapter deserves to be read—but Grove’s description of the “strategic inflection point” and how it applies to every business should get you thinking hard about your own professional and practice trajectory. The parallels to modern medicine and its rapid evolution are everywhere. If you thought the electronic medical record (EMR) was going to be the end of what Alvin Toffler called Future Shock or having to rapidly adapt to new tech, consider the soon-to-be exploding roles of AI, ChatGPT-like services, surgical robots and virtual visits, among other technological advances—there are plenty of things to be paranoid about right there, I’d say.

This book isn’t about unbridled paranoia—it’s more about constantly looking for where the UP escalator almost imperceptibly and without warning becomes the DOWN one—and how to recognize when to switch. Your practice, your business model, the “way you do it,” is not the flat or static moving walkway that airports love. Sooner or later the upward professional path you’re on, if unchanged, will naturally start to lose altitude. Your orbit will begin to decay, if you will. If you’re not looking for and anticipating that point, you might not be able to make the necessary adjustments in time to survive.

Paranoia is often thought of as looking over your shoulder. But what Andy Grove wants you to do is look for what lies straight ahead of you. The future never sneaks up from behind.

“The Ottava Method: Take Your Life Up an Octave,” Corinna Muller, DO, Silversmith Press, 2023, 165 pp.

One of the delightful perks of writing this column is seeing the books our DO colleagues are writing, contributing to and publishing. I initially thought I might have to root around to find enough material but, as the AM radio deejays of my youth used to say, “the hits just keep on coming.”

I am, by way of confession here, a naturally right-brained, musically inclined person. So, when I saw ottava in the title, I had an immediate flashback to childhood piano lessons, with their damnable finger exercises, tyrannical metronome and the ubiquitous musical signature 8va, which means play the passage one octave (eight notes) higher. Easier said than done, as I recall.

I really liked Dr. Muller’s book. Why take it up just a notch when, she asks, you can take it up a full octave? Vocalists refer to this as increasing their range. Part self-help book, part reflection on the inherently musical nature of being human, Dr. Muller’s style is friendly and encouraging—she also does personal coaching and hosts a podcast—and reflects on her experience in these intersecting and complementary areas. Not surprisingly, the book presents eight principles for expanding your personal range (I love it when a theme comes together).

She neatly summarizes each of these in her introduction and then discusses them fully one by one. Liberally interspersed are quotes worth remembering. There is a hint of a business book hiding in here (Dr. Muller also holds an MBA which, I’m certain, took her longer than 10 days to acquire), but it’s melded with her prose so well that it’s more like a backing vocal than a competing melody.

This book might not change your life or your practice. But then again, it might. Music resonates with each of us in a different way. As physicians, we have to be comfortable in any number of genres, keys and time signatures. And we can find ourselves limited to what things we can perform if we have only a limited range. Maybe you play strictly by the notes (progress or otherwise) or maybe, like me, you do it mostly by ear. Dr. Muller’s principles, I believe, would work either way.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

The DO Book Club, June 2023: “Long Walk out of the Woods: A Physician’s Story of Addiction, Depression, Hope and Recovery”

The DO Book Club, May 2023: “Endurance,” “Practicing from the Heart” and “Uncaring”

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