My articles will summarize key concepts and shared insights from the book. Check out my first book reviewed:
The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
Summary: The book in five sentences
High-pressure complexities of modern professional occupations (e.g. medicine, aviation, construction) overwhelm even the best-trained practitioners. This overwhelm leads to two primary types of errors:
- Errors of ignorance (mistakes made because we don’t know enough)
- Errors of ineptitude (mistakes made because we don’t make proper use of what we know)
Most failures result from the second error type, not properly applying what we know works. The humble checklists can help us avoid these types of errors. Experts in their respective fields need help and the humility to acknowledge when help is needed.
Quotes and Keys Ideas
Below is a list of key ideas I found while reading the book. The bullet points below include direct quotes from the book and informal notes I made while reading.
- “Man is fallible, but maybe men are less so.”
- “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized.”
- “The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.”
- I imagine the high caseloads of many social workers no doubt contribute to errors made that may have been avoided.
- “Bad checklists are vague and imprecise. They are too long; they are hard to use; they are impractical. They are made by desk jockeys with no awareness of the situations in which they are to be deployed. They treat the people using the tools as dumb and try to spell out every single step. They turn people’s brains off rather than turn them on.”
- “Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”
- Social work is inherently “checklist unfriendly”, but it makes me think: What would a good social worker checklist look like? Of course the checklist would depend on the population being served, environment setting, type of needs being addressed . . . but I wonder how “checklisting” certain tasks and interventions would reduce social worker errors.
- “One essential characteristic of modern life is that we all depend on systems—on assemblages of people or technologies or both—and among our most profound difficulties is making them work.”
- Some of the family systems encountered by social workers, you could argue, are in its own way every bit as complicated as a diseased body system encountered by a medical doctor.
- “It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us—those we aspire to be—handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.”
- “The more familiar and widely dangerous issue is a kind of silent disengagement, the consequence of specialized technicians sticking narrowly to their domains. “That’s not my problem” is possibly the worst thing people can think, whether they are starting an operation, taxiing an airplane full of passengers down a runway, or building a thousand-foot-tall skyscraper.”
- Balancing the need to “stay in your lane” and execute your part of a task needs to be balanced with assertiveness skills and speaking up to supervisors or leadership when an error is recognized.
- The dependence on a checklist can lead to the concept of inattentional blindness: when you ask people to look for something specific, they develop a remarkable inability to see things in general—even things that would normally be obvious.
- The checklist is a tool that is only as good as the person using it.
This is a list of other books, I encountered while researching this book that sparked interest for future reading.
- Other books by Atul Gawande: Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002), Better (2007)
- Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010) by Kathryn Schulz
Buy The Checklist Manifesto