Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto

On my flight to California yesterday, I had the opportunity to finish reading a book that I began over the holidays, The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. If you have been reading my blog with any regularity, you know that I really enjoyed his previous book, "Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance," and found many applications to my classroom in it. Well, "The Checklist Manifesto" is equally gripping and there are so many applications to my life and my teaching to be found here.

The basic assertion of the book is that simple checklists can make complex processes more efficient and accurate. Simple idea, but profoundly true. We all live increasingly complex lives. We all do increasingly complex jobs. Through a variety of excellent examples, Gawande shows how checklists can prevent errors on a variety of levels and, ultimately, save time, money, and in many cases, lives.

He outlines the differences between simple problems (a series of steps to solve), complicated problems (solving a series of simple problems but not as straightforward), and complex problems (each situation may require a different approach and success is not certain). Gawande also provides examples of how checklists can be effective in all of these situations.

I think that this book resonates with me because I am a checklist person. Just look on my desk at work. There are daily checklists, rehearsal checklists, personal checklists, and others. I tend to think this way naturally. But, Gawande inspires much deeper exploration of the checklist and its effectiveness. He uses examples from medicine, skyscraper construction, aviation, and others. But, I can see applications all of the fields of teaching and music.

Sadly, with all of the evidence to suggest the effectiveness of the checklist, they are still remarkably under used. That "maverick" mentality that our culture celebrates is is just too difficult to part with. Why use a checklist? I'll figure it out as I go. And, it will be a more creative solution. Think of all of the resources that go to waste by not using a checklist. All in the name of pride. And, believe me, I am as guilty as the next guy.

Another concept in the book that spoke to me was Gawande's definition of professionalism in learned occupations. It includes selflessness, skill, and trustworthiness. Gawande asserts that the fourth trait should be discipline and it is all too often missing from the definition. That simple act of following procedure gets overlooked so often. I couldn't agree more.

Let me recommend this book. This is a bunch here to learn and to apply to our lives.
Put this book on YOUR checklist.
I have to sign off now. I have a checklist to get to!


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