Laura's Reviews > The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
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May 02, 11

bookshelves: read-2011, nonfiction, personal-mba
Read from April 25 to May 02, 2011

Before starting, I read quite a few reviews that described it as an extended magazine entry. And I went in skeptical; I was curious how much one could say about checklists. I see lists as a great way to get things done. As long as they are simple and directed, they can focus my attention and keep me on task. So I went in a list enthusiast, but still skeptical.

This book argues checklists help us be more effective with complex tasks, by focusing us on what needs to be done and is often overlooked in emergency situations. Gawande recognizes that lists should not create bureaucratic nightmares. They are there to increase accuracy and prevent errors. Efforts should be made to test and refine them. What are things people are likely to remember (don't add them to the list) and what are things people are not likely to remember (put them on the list). This process means experts in the field need to make the checklists. By creating a space for everyone to check in with the process, the checklist can empower all team members and allow them to speak up when things are not working. This empowerment is the true value of the book.

While complex tasks (medicine and architecture) used to be handle by a single master, this book argues that our modern world is too complex for a single master. Instead, a checklist guides the decision making process of a team. If a step can not be accomplished, people need a space to speak up or be authorized to make the best decision. (Example of authorizing people to make decisions - Walmart's decision to let staff do whatever needed to be done during Hurricane Katrine) When possible, the team should discuss events that are not accomplished as planned. However such discussion is not always possible.

He acknowledges some tasks lend themselves to check lists (surgery preparation, airplane takeoffs, building buildings) and some do not (raising children). He argues - quite rightly - that children are unique. You can't create a checklist to deal with all children.

Basically Gawande believes what Einstein said about simplicity - everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. And I think there is a strong satisfaction to finding a simple solution.

I liked the different examples. Because I felt it helped open the possibility of checklists, while also maintaining perspective on the challenges. The exploration of different checklists will either appeal to you as a reader or you will feel it is going over the same information. I liked it...

**Follow Up Thoughts**
When I read the book, I realized that you can't raise kids with a checklist. But you could help kids manage their time and responsibilities with checklists. I think some kids would be very drawn to the routine of a daily checklist. So a checklist could be a positive teaching tool.
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