.Here, then, is our situation at the start of the twenty-first century: We have accumulated stupendous know-how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. And, with it, they have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields–from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: 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.
The Checklist Manifesto chronicles Dr. Gawande’s quest to better understand the sources of the greatest stresses and failures in the practice of medicine. From an essay he read in college, he gathers that there are two kinds of failure: those of ignorance and ineptitude. “Failures of ignorance we can forgive,” he says, “If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.” To remind us to apply this knowledge correctly, he happens upon a simple solution—the checklist.
He emphasizes with our inherent resistance to such a simple fix. He understands that a checklist feels by its very nature robotic and ‘soulless’ but says that a well-designed one doesn’t have to squelch our heroism. Across industries, from aviation to construction, Dr. Gawande shows that a checklist can get the routine and known checked off so we can focus our full attention on the parts of our jobs that include uncertainty.
Our world is complicated, and any method of better organizing all of our knowledge and information is much needed. Mundane as they are, the checklist has been shown to save lives and money in just about any place it’s methodically used.