Meet The Real Don Berwick


The Boston Globe has a front page story about Don Berwick and his run for Governor of Massachusetts. The title of the article is Brimming with ideas, Berwick looks for traction.

Berwick launched the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge in 1991. The $40 million nonprofit helps governments and hospitals around the world reduce medical errors and improve care. In 2005, he earned knighthood for helping an entire country, Britain, overhaul its troubled health care system. And from 2010 to 2011, he ran Medicare and Medicaid for President Obama.

I knew that Don Berwick was a very accomplished person.  However, I didn’t really have exact knowledge of those accomplishments.  There is difference between my understanding of Berwick in this point in the campaign (at least before reading this article) and Elizabeth Warren at a similar point in her campaign.  In the Warren case, I knew exactly why she was such a superior candidate for this office.  I had seen some of her lectures, and had read some of her books.  I knew exactly how much better she understood the financial crisis and its effect on people than almost anybody else, politician or not.

With Don Berwick, I only suspected his level of understanding, but I didn’t know the details.

Another part of the story from the article is this excerpt.

Berwick’s own career path shifted dramatically after Harvard Community Health Plan put him in charge of quality improvement in 1982. In the medical field, the job traditionally meant punishing doctors who made mistakes.

But Berwick took the position just as companies like Toyota were reshaping the corporate world with management theories that promised to cut costs while improving quality.

Frustrated that error rates were not dropping at his own company, Berwick met with Swissair executives, NASA scientists, and engineers at Bell Labs, looking for advice.
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Berwick became enamored of a particular brand of management theory — “total quality management” — that seeks to enlist the entire workforce in improving quality, rather than handing that task only to managers.

In the early 1970s, I had taken an interest in “total quality management” as it applied to my profession of software engineering.  I continued that interest, and tried to apply the principles of TQM for the rest of my career.  TQM is not just about the mechanics of doing a job.  TQM understands people and how essential it is to engage them in improving the quality of what they do. So Berwick’s interest in the subject and application of the techniques just raises my esteem for him as a potential Governor.

There is one final part of the article that I want to call attention to.

Then Berwick raised a point that had been bothering him. A woman at a fund-raiser had reacted angrily, he said, when he mentioned that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields” to protect its rockets in Gaza. She had argued there were no human shields, he said.

Berwick asked where he could find reliable information on the issue. Marsh suggested trying a range of news outlets and tried to steer the candidate back to local concerns.

“For our purposes, that’s not a road I think we want to go down,” the aide said.

But Berwick persisted. “I don’t want to say anything that’s wrong,” he told Marsh.

This highlights one area where I think Don Berwick is even superior to Elizabeth Warren.  He may have been espousing the usual, unthinking talking points about Hamas that come from all politicians who claim to be anywhere near the mainstream, but he was able to hear a dissent, and he wanted to find out more.

Massachusetts would miss the chance to elect a world class Governor if it passes on Don Berwick.  We don’t get chances like this very often.  We really need to take advantage of them when they come along.


In case someone notices this, I thought I would talk about it myself.

He met the woman he would later marry, Ann Greenberg, when they were lab partners in biology class in their first week of freshman year at Harvard. She is now chairwoman of the state Department of Public Utilities.

I did not know anything about Don’s wife when I became interested in his campaign. I did not know her last name before reading this article. As far as I know, she is not related to me in any way.

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