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Checklists?!?! April 17, 2018

Posted by FA in education, experience, global, questions, social, Uncategorized.
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My weekend reading consisted of Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto after completing Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness. Each were fantastic, and I would recommend both. However, Checklist was a reminder to all of the things that we think we can memorize but often leave out a single step. Dr. Gawande uses anecdotes from his surgery background as well as riveting stories from across multiple industries known for going through checklists (mainly, airlines / flight and construction).

The juxtaposition of the two books allowed me the time to compare and reflect on each as they related to each other – an intertwining in heuristics, as it may. Taleb presented reminders of the ultimate affect of randomness that surrounds daily decisions. Remaining even-tempered throughout a journey if there is an actual strategy in place from beginning to end (or until an adjustment is made given new data). The process is important and should be the primary recipient of our determination of success/failure. By not taking the overall strategy into context, humans are more likely to be emotional/reactive to natural fits of randomness in the path (whether good or bad). Observing and noting these but not reacting can be key in avoiding biases that may otherwise lead someone to do something irrational. What drives these strategies and keeps us on the process path? I, for one, would often say that the knowledge gained through reading and experience. However, as a human, I don’t have the capacity to remember, upon perfect recall, all of the requisite experience at once. So, organization becomes paramount and explicit processes can be put into place – visible, not mental. This is where Gawande’s book helps.

Succinct processes can be made into a checklist. If I’m honest, I am terrible with To-Do Lists, checklists, notes, etc…. If I am good in making them, they fall away quickly to memory cache and out (until I know I need it again). A VISIBLE checklist of processes, especially when my next venture will require others to know what we’re doing, is the best way to be clear and concise. I will say that in my work as a start-up valuation consultant, I do use an ordered list for what I want to go through for a project and that has yet to steer me wrong. When I want to explain something, most is by memory, but in many lines of work, it may be best to go with a checklist that you can recall and share. Gawande makes a point that the checklists aren’t long or drawn out – more a reminder of what to consider/do in certain cases. There is a requirement for expertise and familiarity, not a step-by-step beginner-friendly mini-book.

This reminds me of PowerPoint presentations that try to include paragraphs of information on each slide. This will detract attention and reduce the power of a point you may be trying to make. Yet I see presentations done like this all too often, and it’s such a turn-off. I shut it out or turn off the video. Own your project, research, data. Set reminders for yourself to engage the audience with your short, succinct points or pictures. Have a checklist of things you wanted to cover and touch on them accordingly. Checklists shouldn’t be shameful – read the book and see how many times Gawande’s research found errors – they’re minimal but can have lasting consequences. There are consequences to not providing certain details in other fields (maybe not as life-threatening) but maybe they do affect livelihoods.

Maybe above all else, Gawande’s usage of checklists enabled communication around a common goal for a team, regardless of being a team previously. As much as each actor in the checklist believes to be an independent agent, aligning a common goal means everyone should be on the same page in the process. Feedback can be as important as execution if it can improve the overall effort. I hope to be able to utilize and refine this tool in order to better my processes and my work. Good luck to everyone!

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