Ever since I nearly drowned myself , I started to go swimming a couple of times a week. After doing the school run, I walk across the river Wye bridge (Is the water level low or is the river in flood today?), drop into the sports complex and swim for about 20 minutes. By 9.15, I can be back at my desk, fresh and ready for the day ahead.

But it’s so easy to get used to this controlled environment. The pool is a constant 27C, you see the same regulars (with a few newbies every January) and the water is always crystal clear and clean. It’s oh so easy to get lulled into a sense of false security….

Having jut returned from a sea/sand/sun holiday, swimming in the Indian ocean was going to be one of the highlights. You’re protected by a reef so there are no sharks but lots of interesting fish instead. The water is about 27 C so no wet suits required. The waves are enough to make it interesting without the chance of wipeout. The beach has perfect white sand so it’s picture-postcard pretty. A rum punch is close at hand.

But what about the sea……

Just swimming in a pool all the time doesn’t really prepare you for sea swimming. Yeah, I know, like doh – it’s obvious. There are undercurrents, breaking waves, salinity, variable depths and hidden dangers. You seem to swim and swim, yet not get very far. A mistimed wave splashes your eyes which sting from the salt. You have to wear swim shoes to guard against sea urchin spines and stone fish.

Does this reflect our worlds? We are experts in finding and communicating key medical information for our customers. Sitting in our comfortable air conditioned/heated offices with controlled Microsoft-based platforms, reasonably new laptops/pcs and impressive access to both external and internal information, we are well equipped to navigate the maze of information available. It’s just like the swimming pool – a well controlled environment.

But for our customers, it’s like the sea. Turbulent at times, calmer at others. Finding the information they want or need is like diving into the sea. They are not too sure how they will get on. Will they be out of their depth or find it too shallow? Have they got the skills to swim or will they flounder? Can they find those elusive fish darting away out of sight or will the water be crystal clear with curious fish wanting to be spotted?

So using the pool versus sea metaphor, can they find what they want easily? Can they understand it? Does it relate to the situation they are in (for their own information or to treat a patient)? How will they know if it’s valid, high quality, false, out-of-date, contentious, professionally adopted etc?

Do we have insight into what their worlds are like, what their experiences are, why they need us?

So, no matter how many times you go swimming in the pool, it’s not like swimming in the sea. Just as we all need a holiday sometimes, taking a trip into the real world and see what life is like for our customers can help us understand what they experience and refine our skills to better communicate the key information.