Lessons on intent from a baby born early and those who took care of her


In the last few months, our family has been in a completely new place. Because of this, our first grandchild was born two weeks ago. A tiny, perfectly formed baby girl who was born eight weeks early but immediately won our hearts with her quiet, determined nature.

I know my way around the maternity hospital like I know my way around my desk. A new set of information about newborns that people are more interested in than any business webinar.

We now work in a place that most people will never see, so we have a lot of respect for the taxes we pay. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a place of contrasts. It is a place where technology and care meet, where noise and quiet go hand in hand, and where life and death are in the hands of people we have never met and may never meet again.

Angels at work. They glide like angels between incubators for newborns and feed their tiny charges mother’s milk drop by drop through soft tubes made of rice noodles. They change diapers about the size of mittens and check the babies’ vital signs all the time.

They coo soothing words as the little rosebud mouths suckle the air to learn how to breathe, swallow, and sucking at the same time.

They gently move these almost-naked newborns, who are hooked up to drips, tubes, and monitoring devices, from the safety of their high-tech cocoons to their anxiously waiting mothers. They tuck their little arms and legs up under their mother’s shirt so that the skin-to-skin contact can help them grow and bond.

It’s a miracle, and we can sleep at night knowing that this precious life and the lives of many thousands of other newborns every year are being watched over by this amazing species of people.

As I drive people to and from the NICU, I have time to think about life and work. There’s nothing like starting a new life, especially one that’s so fragile, to make you think about who you are and what you can be.

What do I do that saves lives, makes them better, or changes them? I don’t save lives, but I recently wrote about my Owen Meany complex and the idea that I watch out for other people out of habit. But do I have the power to change and improve lives?

It’s about what people meant to do. Not too long ago, I had the chance to spend a day with the good KPI community and learn from a great coach with them. We were told to think about what we planned to do. Some might say goal. What are two or three words that could describe why we did what we did and what values would support that? It’s a hard task, and it’s hard to stay away from ideas and words that sound like cliches.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if you coach people, drive a bus, or run a multi-million dollar organization; your intent is clear from the moment you connect with another person. It jumps from one person’s synapses to the next in the blink of an eye.

Try it. Try two restaurants with different staffs that serve the same food. In the first, as soon as you walk in, someone greets you, smiles, and comes over to show you to a table. In the second, you stand there for a long time while a waiter who seems to avoid eye contact on purpose finally, but grudgingly, waves a hand toward a table.

This small interaction shows the organization’s goal, which is then passed on to its employees. It will likely change your experience and make you think about whether you want to go back or not.

Keeping the vision alive: I looked up the Mercy Hospital’s vision statement. As with most organizations, it could use some editing, but the meaning was clear right away from the words “enduring capacity and passion to serve those with special needs.”

In the last 14 weeks, my daughter and I have talked to maybe 100 or more doctors, midwives, neonate nurses, and office staff at The Mercy.

Almost all of them have shown a “enduring capacity and passion to serve our special needs”—for twelve weeks, while my daughter bravely fought to keep her baby girl safe in utero, and for the last two, and for several more weeks to come, by taking care of our tiny grand-daughter in the NICU.

It’s a hospital for the public. It could also be full of people who are grumpy, too busy, or not interested. We would have still needed their help. But it has made a huge difference to be served by people who believe in this vision during this high-stress time like no other. I’m very grateful to each of them.

A lot of small things. So now it’s not just my job to build websites, get you to blog, and bring people together, but also to make your life better. It doesn’t have to be something that wins the Nobel Prize. A small act of kindness, a reasoned voice, a referral, shared knowledge, thoughtfulness, and, hopefully, posts like this can make someone’s life better.

It can also be done by helping other people stay true to their goals through their online presence while they serve their clients. In the best case, they can align their business with a cause and show that what they can do together hasn’t even been thought of yet.

This post is for the people who take care of the world’s smallest people, the babies who work so hard to grow. And to my grandchild, who has shown more than anything else that she wants to be with us in this world and who will hold me accountable if I fail to do this work.

What are you trying to do, what is your goal? When you say what you do, how will you change how you do it? I hope you’ll write to me.