Books Reviews

The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

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.

I have liked the physical act of writing for as long as I can remember. I would copy paragraphs from books just for the joy of writing. I don’t remember exactly when but I started jotting down things to remember. That seemed to make it more concrete, official, and important.

Over forty decades, it has evolved into lists of many kinds. To-do, to-remember, to-not-do,… all helping me in various aspects of my life. I have had friends borrow my master list (yes, there were sub-lists) for packing. Some have ridiculed me for my lists too.

So, for me, this book means vindication. When I first came to know of it, I was delighted to learn that Gawande thought of lists as tools that help professionals handle their responsibilities. In it, he says that is so easy for everyone, even experts, to overlook some things as they go about their lives.

He establishes that no matter how great an expert you may be, your work can vastly improve if you use checklists. He underlines the effectiveness of checklists with sufficient data to support his claim. He cites many interesting examples from different fields to do so.

The book also has many fascinating stories, such as how effectively Walmart responded to Hurricane Katrina and why David Lee Roth used to insist on having a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed in his dressing room backstage.

Gawande also explains in detail how he and his team developed a safe surgery checklist and successfully implemented it in hospitals in various parts of the world. The book is quite helpful in that you can draft a checklist based on it.

Identify the crucial processes in your field of interest and the problems that you usually face while executing them. List the measures you need to prevent or avoid them. It’s as simple as that.

The book may seem to be on a dry subject that can be expressed in one sentence: Checklists are good because they improve the effectiveness of almost every process. However, Gawande’s writing is so lively and full of interesting anecdotes that you hardly feel so.

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