5 Atul Gawande : The Checklist Manifesto

Our sixth post in a series counting down the 10 most influential books I’ve read this year – 2011.

Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Profile Books, London, 2010.
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Atul Gawande : The Checklist Manifesto Profoundly Simple

The premise of this book is so profoundly simple it’s likely you’re going to ignore it. I did! Then, I noticed this book kept popping up on my radar. I’d read a blog post that mentioned it. Then another, and another… Then, I’d see a tweet referring to it. And, finally, I thought… buy the book, read it and see for myself.

Here’s the premise: Create checklists to get things done.

Mmm… I told you! It’s kind of overwhelmingly underwhelming!

So, what’s the juice? How can a book that is so simple in it’s message make it to number five on my list of Top Ten Most Influential books for 2011?

First of all, it’s written by an Associate Professor from Harvard Medical School. Plus he leads the World Health Organisation Safe Surgery Saves Lives Program. Now, that’s serious cred!

Ignorance or Ineptitude

In the book, Gawande describes the problem. There are two ways to fail in the world. One is ignorance where we don’t really understand the problem and therefore get it wrong. The second is ineptitude. This means we know what to do and we simply failed to deliver.

And in his field of medicine he cites the stats that in the US there are over 50 million operations every year. And, over 150,000 people die following surgery. And, here’s the rub, research shows that half of these deaths could have been avoided. Let me say that another way… around 75,000 in the US alone could be saved each year with the help of the humble checklist. (Page 31)

Now, I’ll pause a moment for you to pick up your jaw from the ground… That is mind-bogglingly staggering!

The problem is not ignorance. It’s ineptitude. And it’s got almost nothing to do with the competency of the staff involved. It has everything with the volume and complexity of their tasks.

And here’s the irony. The same reason that I almost didn’t buy this book, is the same reason that most professionals don’t use checklists. It goes something like this: “I’m a professional, I know lots of things, I have a reputation to maintain and if I use a checklist I’ll appear like a dunce.”

What did you forget?

Consider this scenario… When was the last time you went to the supermarket and forgot something? Mostly this is no big deal. You shake your head, grumble about how forgetful you are and… you get on with it.

Now imagine you are a pilot in a plane, a doctor performing a complex operation or an architect designing a 30 storey office building. Forgetting something at this level is a little different. It literally could be life or death!

So… What could you forget in your business that’s the equivalent of life or death? For a speaker it might be to forget your slides for an important presentation. For an athlete it might be to forget to hydrate before your event. For a chef it might be to forget the magic ingredient for your world famous meal.

The Answer is Simple!

And, for all of these situations, the answer is the simple, humble checklist.

And, now I’m a convert! I’m creating checklists throughout my business so I don’t forget things. And what’s even better… these simple humble checklists are building business systems that would make it very easy to employ a team to support me.

I now love checklists! And, this is why this book has made my list of the Top Ten Most Influential Books for 2011.

Number 4 in our Top Ten Most Influential Books 2011: George Lakoff : Don’t Think of an Elephant
Number 6 in our Top Ten Most Influential Books 2011: Scott Belsky : Making Ideas Happen

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