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How To Get Things Right

An extended title of this particular blog post could be “How to Avoid Errors (not errors of ignorance, but errors of inepitude)” but I liked the ring of the original title which pays homage to a certain surgeon. But first things first.

Ever kick yourself for making a dumb mistake? A dumb mistake that you shouldn’t have made, because you knew better? But for the life of you, you don’t know why you screwed up when under any other circumstances you wouldn’t have made the mistake?

I’ve been there quite a few times, often it was simple things such as not double checking formulas or not proof reading my business cases at work carefully enough. Sure it was simple things to do, but not doing them meant the world of difference in a way decisions were being made and not to mention the not so great impression I was giving.

Not one to accept things as they are if they can be improved, I started to simply write reminders on yellow sticky tabs and place them around my desk so I could easily see them when doing or completing my work. For example, a reminder could be, did I send the document through the appropriate approval channels before officially submitting it? For my job, I’m expected to just know that this is part of the process, but when faced with multiple deadlines and differing tasks, one can forget things in the thick of things so I found these reminders helpful.

I further improved upon this simple but powerful trick by putting together lists of things to ensure I completed every requirement during certain work assignments.  I found myself completing my work faster and the ‘editing’  process was shortened and I found myself making fewer mistakes.

I was then pleasantly surprised to come across an article about a surgeon named Atul Gawande who among other books, wrote a book called, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right. You can probably venture a guess as to what his book was about. In his particular setting however, he found that hospital mistakes could be greatly reduced by simple checklists before and after certain procedures. He  then goes on to give detailed accounts how checklists are used in other fields such as aviation and finance.

One of the greatest challenges with checklists according to Gawande’s book and article is NOT making the checklist itself but getting the experts in each field to use them! Apparently, because of the simple nature of the checklist, experts have a tendency to shun them. Thankfully, once proven of the results, they slowly see the virtues of such a powerful tool.

A great point Gawande makes is that in the modern age the problem is not lack of knowledge but too much knowledge. It paralyzes us, and one solution is the use of checklists.

On a final note, checklists are meant to be precise and to the point. If they’re too long, they won’t be used, they are not to be used or viewed as detailed instructions but rather as reminders of the most important and critical steps of what to do in a given situation/task.

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