Monday, January 18, 2010

The Checklist-Driven Life

Just in case you were looking for a way to make your life conform more fully to the Protestant work ethic, Atul Gawande has the answer: checklists. Link to his Financial times article here. Buy his new book, "The Checklist Manifesto" here.

Hard work, discipline, focus, concentration, attention to detail... these qualities, known to produce success for those who follow them rigorously, are embodied in decision-making processes that involve checklists.

Amazingly enough, Gawande notes, everyone knows that checklists improve their decision-making and lead to greater success. They just refuse to use them.

In his words: "In the money business everyone looks for an edge. If someone is doing well, people pounce like starved hyenas to find out how. Almost every idea for making even slightly more money-- investing in internet companies, buying tranches of sliced-up mortgages-- gets sucked up by the giant maw almost instantly. Every idea, that is, except one: checklists."

Why this strange will to ignore the obvious, even at the cost of success. Gawande explains it correctly: people ignore checklists because they want to make their lives conform to a myth. Given the choice between being a mythic character that fails and a human being that succeeds, they choose the former.

In Gawande's words: "We don't like checklists. They can be painstaking. They're not much fun. But I don't think the issue here is mere laziness. There's something deeper, more visceral involved when people walk away not only from saving lives but from making money. It somehow seems beneath us, an embarrassment, to use a checklist. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great-- those we aspire to be-- handle situations of high stakes and complexity. They truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating."

Somehow or other our culture has taught us how to work less effectively. It has imbued us with the values of spontaneity and creativity. It has taught us to make decisions based on intuition and gut feelings.

And it has pronounced this way more normal and healthy than the old checklist-driven way of doing things.

This is another way of saying that we owe this, among other counterproductive practices, to the therapy culture.

1 comment:

fxhawaii said...

It can't succeed in fact, that is what I think.