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Short stories: why you can love Murakami even without reading his novels

Haruki Murakami’s stories are like soft shadows – the fainter of the footprints he has left behind.

In his introduction to the English edition of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, an anthology of 26 of his short stories, Haruki Murakami writes, “If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.” He doesn’t compare the two forms. In fact, he goes on to say that he enjoys writing both every now and then, and as readers, the least we can do for an author whom we like as much as we do him, is to gracefully accept the strange stories, both long and short, he loves to bewilder us with.

It’s no secret that his books are insanely popular worldwide. They sell more than a million copies at home and are translated into over 40 foreign languages from Japanese. They’re reviewed and mentioned in the most renowned publications of our time, and it’s not for nothing that he is expected to win the Nobel Prize in Literature every year.

But what about short stories?

So, if one truly reveres Murakami’s works, one must find it next to impossible to ignore the other works of fiction he experiments with. For the best example of these, turn to his three short story collections: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, The Elephant Vanishes, and After the Quake.

The New Yorker, which has been carrying Murakami’s essays, excerpts, and short stories for years now, as it does of several other acclaimed authors, published his latest story, Kino, recently. It is the story of a man named Kino who, after encountering his wife in bed with his friend, chooses to lead a solitary life by running a humble bar in a quiet neighbourhood. A strange man named Kamita becomes a regular customer, and both Kino and he begin to feel comfortable in each other’s silent company. Things develop and Kamita, amazingly aware that the place is no longer safe for Kino and that something fatal is going to happen, suggests that he go away:

“Here’s what you do. Go far away, and don’t stay in one place for long. And every Monday and Thursday make sure to send a postcard. Then I’ll know you’re O.K.”



Kino is uncertain, but he takes Kamita’s advice and agrees to his terms. He doesn’t challenge the impending catastrophe and is somehow certain of Kamita’s concern (even though he doesn’t know him well) and that he must obey it, lest something bad befalls him. We never get to know the practical details like why the bar wasn’t safe, or who Kamita was after all, but the very nature of intuition is dark and mysterious, and as humans, we’d do anything to escape the fear of the unknown.

First draft novels?

A significant aspect of Murakami’s short stories that any of his fans must be familiar with is that many of them are amplified into his novels. That is to say, there are apparent allusions to the short stories and their characters in his books. In Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, for example, the protagonist’s trip to a hospital with his cousin is starkly similar to a section in one of Murakami’s earlier novels, Norwegian Wood, where Toru Watanabe recalls a similar trip he took with his friend some years ago.

It isn’t just these references that make Murakami’s short stories worth remembering. Each of them works around a single concept to achieve a level of profundity. The Year of Spaghetti is an utterly frank, to the point of being banal, story of a man obsessed with cooking spaghetti to counter loneliness. The Second Bakery Attack is about redemption and in a way, a tale of coming to terms with prickly guilt.

Samsa in Love is a stunning interpretation in reverse of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis; here the ‘monstrous verminous bug’ wakes up to find himself in the human form of Gregor Samsa, and not the other way round. He is attracted to a hunchbacked woman locksmith who visits his house, the reference to the woman being a hunchback being a deliberate contrast to the animal instinct taking root in Samsa, the bug’s heart. It feels like an imaginary prequel to Kafka’s novella. Scheherazade is a modern rendition of the legendary Arabic queen’s story by the same name; besides being a storyteller, she’s a sensuous caretaker in Murakami’s version.

His short stories are as extraordinary as his novels. Of course, it’d be incorrect to say that all his stories are equally incredible, but there are several that stay with you for a long time. Almost involuntarily, on a dull summer afternoon, you may find yourself drawn to a story you had read a long time ago. And at times, while re-reading a story, you’d discover connotations that you overlooked in the first read. But if you need a definitive conclusion or specific closure, sadly, you’ll be waiting forever. As so many of Murakami’s people also seem to do.

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There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

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  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.