We live in a world of great and increasing complexity, where even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. Longer training, ever more advanced technologies‚neither seems to prevent grievous errors. But in a hopeful turn, acclaimed surgeon and writer Atul Gawande finds a remedy in the humblest and simplest of techniques: the checklist.
First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly aircraft of mind-boggling sophistication. Now innovative checklists are being adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to avalanches. Even in the immensely complex world of surgery, a simple ninety-second variant has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third.
In riveting stories, Gawande takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units virtually eliminated a type of deadly hospital infection. He explains how checklists actually work to prompt striking and immediate improvements. And he follows the checklist revolution into fields well beyond medicine, from homeland security to investment banking, skyscraper construction, and businesses of all kinds.
An intellectual adventure in which lives are lost and saved and one simple idea makes a tremendous difference, The Checklist Manifesto is essential reading for anyone working to get things right.
Author: Atul Gawande
“Here, then, is our situation at the start of the twenty-first century: We have accumulated stupendous know-how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. And, with it, they have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields—from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.”
The Checklist Manifesto was a delightful little book. It didn’t necessarily teach me anything profound about checklists or how to make them, but it did take a bunch of things I already knew or understood and rearranged them in a way I hadn’t considered before. The writing was great; it used good storytelling to feature many exciting examples, so I stayed attentive and intrigued.
The book opens with an overview of situations and professions in which checklists could be helpful. It talks a great deal about medicine (as the author is a surgeon) and takes inspiration from the aviation profession. As a result, a lot of the examples used are planes crashing or surgeries going wrong—fast-paced stories that make you want to know how they end. Then the author goes into his time leading a project with the World Health Organization that was intended to improve the success of surgery worldwide. He and his team developed a universal surgery checklist. But he is a great storyteller—how did they get to that checklist? Did the first version work? What about the results? How many lives did it save? Did people listen to him and start to use it?
The book isn’t really a “how-to” (despite the subtitle), but it does make you think about all the ways formal, strategic checklists could be implemented in your daily life to reduce the likelihood of human error. It’s also not a celebration of lists for those of you (like me) who just love stationery, list-making, and the satisfaction of crossing items off one-by-one. Instead, it’s a call to action. Today’s processes are so complex that the human brain simply cannot reliably execute them without error. It’s not a question of competency or pride, it’s a question of the human brain. Well-developed checklists don’t tell you how to do the job; they help you to make sure that the steps that are both critical and easy to miss are not forgotten. They are a failsafe that makes everyone smarter, more comfortable, more communicative, and less likely to err.
It was a quick read, and it was thought-provoking. I recommend if you’re looking for a little mental jumpstart!