Oops.

Yesterday, I failed. I failed to post the picture that comes with the blog post on Instagram. That’s the final step in my process for publishing my daily writing.

Why did I fail? The process is nine, simple steps. With complex work behind them in two steps. Yet, I missed one.

Because I didn’t use my checklist.

The compelling argument in favour of that is what Atul Gawande has uncovered in his research, laid out in The Checklist ManifestoHis research shows that even if we are highly intelligent and skilled workers, we constantly slip up. Unless we follow a procedure and check boxes. I am very grateful that pilots do this meticulously. That’s why so few planes drop out of the air.

Gawande begins by making a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know).

Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he walks us through a series of examples from medicine showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality. Gawande then visits with pilots and the people who build skyscrapers and comes back with a solution. Experts need checklists–literally–written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure. In the last section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success. – Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker

Before we knew this on the basis of research, some of us intuited as much.

Stoics, ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers did not insist on a form of a daily practice for nothing. To me, their common ground is that we examine our reality and our perception of it on a daily basis, as a means to keep us or guide us to sanity. And turn what works in to habits.

It now turns out the latest insights in neuroscience validate that. But that’s for another time.

What domain in your work needs a checklist?

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