📚 Book Notes: The Checklist Manifesto
Here are my notes from The Checklist Manifesto:
- In the United States, we have nearly five million commercial buildings, almost one hundred million low-rise homes, and eight million or so high-rise residences. We add somewhere around seventy thousand new commercial buildings and one million new homes each year. But “building failure” — defined as a partial or full collapse of a functioning structure — is exceedingly rare, especially for skyscrapers. According to a 2003 Ohio State University study, the United States experiences an average of just twenty serious “building failures” per year. That’s an annual avoidable failure rate of less than 0.00002 percent. And, as Joe Salvia explained tome, although buildings are now more complex and sophisticated than ever in history, with higher standards expected for everything from earthquake proofing to energy efficiency, they take a third less time to build than they did when he started his career.
The checklists work.
- The hospital’s director of surgical administration, who happened to be not only a pediatric cardiac surgeon but also a pilot, decided to take the aviation approach. He designed a preincision “Cleared for Takeoff ” checklist that he put on a whiteboard in each of the operating rooms. It was really simple. There was a check box for the nurse to verbally confirm with the team that they had the correct patient and the correct side of the body planned for surgery — something teams are supposed to verify in any case. And there was a further check box to confirm that the antibiotics were given (or else judged unnecessary, which they can be for some operations).
There wasn’t much more to it. But getting teams to stop and use the checklist — to make it their habit — was clearly tricky. A couple of check boxes weren’t going to do much all by themselves. So the surgical director gave some lectures to the nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons explaining what this checklist thing was all about. He also did something curious: he designed a little metal tent stenciled with the phrase Cleared for Take off and arranged for it to be placed in the surgical instrument kits. The metal tent was six inches long, just long enough to cover a scalpel, and the nurses were asked to set it over the scalpel when laying out the instruments before a case. This served as a reminder to run the checklist before making the incision. Just as important, it also made clear that the surgeon could not start the operation until the nurse gave the okay and removed the tent, a subtle cultural shift. Even a modest checklist had the effect of distributing power.
- The Johns Hopkins checklist spelled this out most explicitly. Before starting an operation with a new team, there was a check to ensure everyone introduced themselves by name and role: “I’m Atul Gawande, the attending surgeon”; “I’m Jay Powers, the circulating nurse”; “I’m Zhi Xiong, the anesthesiologist” — that sort of thing.
It felt kind of hokey to me, and I wondered how much difference this step could really make. But it turned out to have been carefully devised. There have been psychology studies in various fields backing up what should have been self-evident — people who don’t know one another’s names don’t work together nearly as well as those who do. And Brian Sexton, the Johns Hopkins psychologist, had done studies showing the same in operating rooms. In one, he and his research team button holed surgical staff members outside their operating rooms and asked them two questions: how would they rate the level of communications during the operation they had just finished and what were the names of the other staff members on the team? The researchers learned that about half the time the staff did not know one another’s names. When they did, however, the communications ratings jumped significantly.
The investigators at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere had also observed that when nurses were given a chance to say their names and mention concerns at the beginning of a case, they were more likely to note problems and offer solutions. The researchers called it an “activation phenomenon.” Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to speak up.
- Smart specifically studied how such people made their most difficult decision in judging whether to give an entrepreneur money or not. You would think that this would be whether the entrepreneur’s idea is actually a good one. But finding a good idea is apparently not all that hard. Finding an entrepreneur who can execute a good idea is a different matter entirely. One needs a person who can take an idea from proposal to reality, work the long hours, build a team, handle the pressures and setbacks, manage technical and people problems alike, and stick with the effort for years on end without getting distracted or going insane. Such people are rare and extremely hard to spot.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯