Checklist Manifesto – Irritatingly Simple, Pleasantly Good

Filed Under (Business Books) by Rajesh Kumar on 04-01-2011

If you wish to read an irritatingly simple but tremendously valuable book to read, you must read Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Why do I call it irritating? Deep inside our perceptive prejudices, any activity that leads to the improvement of a business activity is supposed to be coming out from the pen of a jargon spewing management guru.  On the other hand, medical doctors are programmed to explain even the most complex situations in plain language.  I dread to think if I were to ever go to a doctor who’s done MBA. Sample this – Mr. Kumar, if we were to perform the SWOT of your condition and weigh the natural recovery bandwidth vis-a-vis the best-of-breed off-the-shelf solutions, you might conclude that it is mission critical to juxtapose the available options with the probability of survival curve outcome. On the other hand, it is important to incentivize the body and close the loop to arrest the problem. And btw, on your way out, do monetize the clinic to the tune of Rs 1000. Ouch! I die!!

Now imagine visiting a medical doctor. Chances are, after looking at the reports and listening to the patient, the doctor might say, “Mr. Kumar, not to worry. Take these pills while going to bed tonight. You should be better tomorrow”. Simple.

That exactly is the problem with this book. Atul Gawande is a medical doctor (And an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School). This book deals with a very complex subject in the most effortless manner – how to get better organised and be better prepared for situations via Checklists. Atul goes about building the case with a missionary passion, and you cannot miss the point. Even this page on his site has links to so many checklists, which just reinforce his argument that the world is hell lot better and safer if we follow checklists. In other words, the applications of checklists goes beyond visa or loan applications. But what I really liked is the checklist for checklists – Is the Font Sans Serif?

I decided to cross check by looking up the recent incident on the Qantas A380 in which engine cover blew off in flight and how the pilot handled the situation. This crisis had happened the first time.

"I do apologize," the pilot said. "I’m sure you are aware we have a technical issue with our number two engine. We have dealt with the situation, the aircraft is secure at this stage. We’re going to have to hold for some time whilst we do lighten our load by dumping some fuel and a number of checklist [items] we have to perform”. There, there.

I know of organisations that have a checklist for customer visits, checklist for overseas travel and so on. But these are not life threatening situations. One change that happened in the course of my reading of Checklist Manifesto is the realisation that in crunch times, the checklists are even more relevant. This gives me the conviction that checklists is a science and an art, and has far more applications than we usually think.

Exactly as I said, irritatingly simple and pleasantly good. This one should be on every manager’s reading list.

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    About Rajesh Kumar. Rajesh is based in Chennai, where he works for Defiance Technologies in Marketing. The views on this blog are his own. Rajesh Kumar