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Thursday Complexity Post
December 25, 2014

The Long Journey of a Noble Bird


Myth and legend surround the history of the turkey and extraordinary international travels precede its prominent place in American supermarkets. Benjamin Franklin called it a "bird of courage," more suitable than the bald eagle to be the emblem of America. And today a roasted turkey is a popular holiday treat.


Charles Dickens may have provided the first literary celebration of the Christmas turkey dinner. In A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge presents his underpaid, overworked employee Bob Cratchit with a fat prize turkey to replace a less expensive thin goose that would have barely nourished the seven members of the impoverished Cratchit family. In England, turkey was already recognized as tasty fare. In America, many still viewed Christmas festivities as unseemly and holiday feasts were frowned upon. While celebration was becoming more common in the middle of the nineteenth century, Christmas wasn't declared a U.S. federal holiday until 1885.


The turkey familiar to us today is extinct in the wild. Its ancestry has been traced to Mexico, where the Aztecs domesticated a wild game bird they called the huexoloti. They regarded the bird as a god, and held festivals in its honor. North American natives also considered the turkey a powerful spiritual symbol, and prized its feathers for warmth and guidance into the next life.  "The Flight of the Turkey," a story in the Economist, and a "Short History of the Turkey" by Andrew G. Gardner say that when Hernando Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, came to Mexico in 1519 he found the court of Moctezuma had a ravenous appetite for huexoloti's feathers and meat. Moctezuma gave Cortes about 1,500 turkeys, and gold, right before Cortes's armies razed his capital. Historians think Columbus took turkeys back to Spain after his fourth transatlantic visit in 1502, because in 1511 Spain's King Ferdinand demanded that all Spanish ships returning from the New World must bring back turkeys to be bred. Afterwards, turkeys spread rapidly to France, Italy, England and Scandinavia, and back to America.


The Economist traces the circuitous linguistic path of the creature's name. Initially, the Spanish thought the birds from Mexico were peacocks. Spanish ships were often manned by Arabs from the Ottoman Empire, and Europeans thought of their fowl as Turkey birds even though many were a different bird that came from Africa. The Economist says even Shakespeare was mixed up about turkeys. The bard describes a "swelling turkey cock" in mocking reference a character in Henry V. Historically, The Economist says, the available bird would have been an African guinea hen. In Turkey, turkeys from Spain were called hindi, on supposition they came from India. The French named turkey the dinde for the same reason. The Economist notes Linnaeus was also confused when he classified the bird in 1759: he called it Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, which translates from Latin as guinea- foul-chicken peacock chicken-peacock-all wrong.


In centuries past, the elite prized exotic creatures and novels foods,. Today, elites prize the authentic and home grown. Because commercial domestic turkeys have been bred for large white meat breasts, they can't mate and their eggs have to be artificially inseminated. Heritage turkeys, that can cost more than $200, are an effort to restore earlier bird variants. Linguistically, too, the turkey was evolved. In 1970s slang, a theatrical bomb or an inept individual was called a turkey, presumably because poultry farmers have reported that turkeys do dumb things. Earlier, "talking turkey" meant straight talk, no gobbledy-gook. And the tough talk idea is a likely root of "cold turkey," the phrase often used to describe immediate unassisted cessation of drug use. The turkey has also contributed to a popular American icon: Big Bird's feathers are white turkey feathers painted yellow. So enjoy this noble creature if it graces your table!



Happy Holidays!  



Upcoming Workshop


The Leading Adaptive Change workshop, presented in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute, provides approaches for engaging health care organizations to tackle stubborn patient safety challenges.

Too often, patient safety and quality improvement efforts fail because they focus on technical changes-such as introducing new tools and technologies-without addressing the values, beliefs and attitudes of the group involved in the work. This two-day program, with a post-workshop webinar, provides participants with concrete methods and tools for adaptive change, so that their organizations can engage groups to solve problems together, bring about behavior change, devise innovative solutions, and create sustainable improvement.

Health care organizations face seemingly intractable problems, whether it's poor teamwork, weak hand-hygiene performance or broken processes. Using adaptive change methods, patient safety champions can create the conditions for break-through improvement.

Two sessions available in Baltimore, MD:
February 11-12, 2015 led by Lisa Kimball and Jeff Cohn
August 4-5, 2015 led by Sharon Benjamin and Jeff Cohn

Register on the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute site.


Remember PlexusCalls!





January 9, 2015  1:00PM Eastern  

Strategies for Adaptive Leadership and Innovation 
Guests: Daniel Pesut and Charlie Garland                    


You've heard discussions about technical and adaptive leadership. Charlie Garland has explored some of the tools and thinking strategies that aid development of adaptive leadership skills.


Charlie Garland is an innovation expert who provides services as consultant, executive coach, trainer and author. He has developed a series of tools and models that show how our natural thought processes, psychology and experiential learning can evolve into the creation of new value. His clients have ranged from Fortune 100 corporations to early stage entrepreneurs across industries that include finance, IT, manufacturing, publishing fashion, law and entertainment. He earned a BS degree in industrial engineering from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and an MBA from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College. He launched The Innovation Outlet in 2011.


Daniel Pesut, PhD, is professor of Nursing Population Health and Systems Cooperative Unit and Director of the Katharine J. Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership and holds the Katherine R. and C. Walton Lillehei Chair in Nursing Leadership at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Throughout his 38 year career as a nurse he has held positions in both academic and public sectors serving in a variety of roles that include staff nurse, clinical nurse specialist, director of nursing services, academic department chair, and associate dean. He values and supports creativity and innovation and is dedicated to the development of next generation nursing leaders through his coaching and consulting practice. He served as a Trustee of the Plexus Institute from 2005-2010 and was the Chair of the Plexus Institute Board of Trustees from 2011-2012.



Healthcare PlexusCalls

To Be Rescheduled in 2015 

Embracing Complexity: Managing Treatment-Related Symptoms During and After Cancer Treatments
Guests: Noah Zanville, Sarah Shockley and Christine Cote                   


Cancer remains a leading cause of death for individuals in the U.S., but has increasingly become a disease patients can survive, thanks to a growing arsenal of effective treatments. For patients today, this arsenal includes cutting-edge surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biologics and immune-modulating drugs. Together, this collection of treatments is helping more and more patients to fight, and win, their battle against cancer. Unfortunately, many of these treatments can also lead to side-effects that can disrupt patient's transition back to wellness and, in some cases, threaten their ability to finish their cancer treatment. This tension between treatments that heal and treatments that harm is a major theme in oncology, and is made worse by the fact that in many cases, there are no treatments for these side-effects. Social factors like an aging population, increasing pressure to stay in the workforce and spiraling healthcare costs further underscore the need to help patients, their families, and their providers to manage treatment-related symptoms during and after cancer treatment.

Noah, Sarah and Christine will join the call for a roundtable conversation about the challenges of cancer treatment and what "embracing a complexity perspective" might look like in the everyday care of cancer patients. Please bring your voice and your own experience to this important conversation. Read the guests complete bios.      



See all upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar. Subscribe to the PlexusCalls or Healthcare PlexusCalls podcasts. Or, visit the Community section of for the audio archive.  


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