The Checklist Manifesto: Atul Gawande

Information has increases exponentially along-with the complexity of tasks involved. Limitation on human memory and concentration causes us to make seemingly stupid errors.

The key idea is to identify those aspects of the tasks which are simple/dumb but success depends heavily on their correct execution. Checklists can then be ensured to get these things done.

Another key idea is to “push the power of decision making out to the periphery away from the centre”. You need to make sure that they talk to each other and take responsiblity.This is because command and control system does not work in critical complex situations as often complete information is not available and decisions have to be made quick.

The larger lesson is provided by the construction industry example which provides two sets of checklists:

  1. Make sure that the dumb but critical stuff is not overlooked
  2. Checks to ensure that people talk and coordinate and take responsibility ( they had a whole chart which mentioned who was supposed to meet whom after each step and discuss what before proceeding. Also a system where even frontline worker could raise an issue and email all the concerned)

Some quick anecdotes:

  • Surgical staff was required to take a minute at the beginning and make sure that everyone knew everyone’s names – > this was shown to improve team work during the operation substantially.
  • Also in a team meeting -> it is better if everyone is given an opportunity to make their case turn by turn -> allows people to open up, feel more confident
  • The nurses were supposed to run through the checklist ( shifting the power) and would call out each item

Tips on making the checklists

  • Decide whether it is Read-Do or Do-Confirm checklist
  • Should indicate clear pause point when it is supposed to be used.
  • Should have 5-9 items
  • Keep only killer items . Ideally should not take b/w 60-90 sec to go through it
  • Wording should be exact and simple
  • Should contain terminology of the profession
  • Sentence case, Helvetica
  • Should be tested in the real world and iterated
  • IMP: These are not comprehensive How-to guides , but simple quick tools to help expert professionals. Should only contain steps which are easily missed by professionals
  • TIP: To identify the killer items for checklists- >Identify the key items and how big a impact they have and how frequently are they missed
  • It should not encourage mindless automation, but allow the expert to get away with the dumb-stuff and allow him to focus on the harder problems

How will you measure your life ? – Clayton

Figuring out the purpose: Its utterly important to figure this shit out for a very simple reason- it serves as a guiding light when I am  deciding about my priorities and have to do resource allocation. There are so many things that demand my attention and energy and time – all of which is limited. So I need to make sure that I dedicate my resources to those things that I want to become. He argues that world is too full of “mirage, paradox, and uncertainty to leave this to fate”. And obviously, as I have been learning the hard way,  this is not one-time event rather a process that takes time . As I go along in my life, I need to consciously evaluate my assumptions about the person I think I want to become. And these are not very specific targets– like becoming a doctor or entrepreneur , but rather high level goals.

Equally important is to commit to myself to that purpose, to becoming the person I have outlined for myself.  But I should not be too rigid about how I go about doing that. He explains this beautifully with the concept of deliberate and emergent strategy. He argues that once we have our goals we make a deliberate strategy and commit our resources. But often on that path, unexpected opportunities and difficulties arise. When this road forks, I need to make a decision whether I want to continue on my deliberately chosen path or take a diversion and move on the new path. Neither of it is inherently good or bad rather depends on my particular circumstances. He argues that if you have found both the hygiene factors and motivation factors in your career, it makes little sense to give up your deliberate strategy. But if you haven’t its important to try things out. To quote from the book, ” its rarely a case of sitting in the ivory tower and thinking through the problems until the answer pops into your head. What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until your talents, interests and priorities begin to payoff. ..then its time to flip from an emergent strategy to  a deliberate one”.

Long term planning

Building processes.


( Incomplete)

Outliers: Story of Success

1) 10,000 hour rule: hardwork is the most essential ingredient to achieving whatever it is that one wants to achieve. Empirically, about 10,000 hours of sincere effort it takes to master the things

2) People need to have a certain sufficient baseline IQ to be able to do their job successfully. After this threshold, it hardly matters what the intelligence level  ( as measured by IQ ) is as other factors start playing a much larger significant role. This includes things like:

  • Practical intelligence ( Robert Oppenheimer talking his way out of  a murder rap): knowing what to say to whom, when to say and how to say it for maximum effect. As gladwell describes it, it is about reading the situation and getting what you want. He talks about “concerted education” where parents take active part to fosters their child’s talents, opinions and skills. Children scoring well on this scale are taught and encouraged to argue and question authority, to assert their opinion and have a sense of ‘entitlement’. In short they know that they should and they can customise their environment to get what they want.  Also PA is orthogonal to IQ.
  • Autonomy, Complexity and a connection between effort and reward are commonly the three qualities that work has to have if  people have to be satisfied with it. Only then people are willing to put their heart and soul into it.  To quote straight from the book: “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waste and dance a jig.”

3) Culture: he also talks about the influence of culture using the “Hofstede’s Dimensions”

Demographic luck


…To be completed.

Predictably irrational : Dan Ariely


1) Mention of money and you go down the market norms : he has argued that you should either approach people under market norms or under social norms- mixing the two will result in people working less efficiently. He shows that when people were requested to drag circles into a corner ( one of the experiments) they were equally effective when they were requested to volunteer ( for free) and when they were compensated fairly.  But when volunteering was combined with some compensation – people didn’t think that they are helping and making money on top of that. Instead they work half heartedly only as much as they think is fair enough according to the compensation they have been offered . In short hey switch over from the social norm to the market norm completely .  But they also found that people giving people gifts kept them in the social exchange world and away from the market world . Though any mention of the price of gift would bring them back to the market world . 3) we have an irrational compulsion to keep the doors open. What this does is that the doors which we should really have shut keep sapping  our energy and commitment away from the ones that should be left open  and because they drive us crazy. It’s important to make a conscious effort to close the doors that are no longer helpful. Because by focussing on unhelpful things we might be foregoing rather important things.

..To be completed

Richard Branson – Losing my virginity

Following key takeaways:

  • The Best is Yet to Come: This is something that struck me the most. When Branson had to unwillingly sell Virgin music which he had formed with great enthusiasm and persistence, which had brought him to close to all the different people whom he had worked with and trusted in and a company that had shot him into fame and made him rich, there was all the reason for him to be sad about it. As some of his close colleagues proposed a toast to ” the best years of their lives”, it must have been a very emotionally draining moment. But its amazing how he reacted to the whole episode by believing that the best was yet to come. He then goes on to launch a spaceship company, work with Mandela in Africa and launch initiatives to combat climate change and  etc etc. The point being everyone has a choice- one can decide to sit on  in the past believing that it was the best and future will not be brighter or one can devote his energies to painting the future one desires to live in.
  • Challenging yourself: I am truly amazed by the sense of adventure he has-fastest to cross the atlantic by sea, hot air ballon flights over the pacific and atlantic, treks over arctic. I guess its important to have such adventures because they train you to live on the edge, to survive extremely harsh conditions and to take on everything that comes your way with confidence .This sense of adventure and immense self confidence also then flows into the everyday life and make it more fun. It brings on an attitude to dream big, to believe in it and to survive everything that it takes to realise that dream.
  • Curiosity and Persistence: He works like crazy, doing things in different directions. His curiosity and attitude to move things is truly remarkable.
  • Confidence: Selling advertising on a magazine that has not been published and interviewing celebrities of UK for it, does require a heap of self-confidence.  Calling Boeing to get them to rent a plane for a year with not a great bank balance, just requires another level of it. And learning to fly a hot air ballon and flying it in the Jet Streams at a height of 30,000 feet which no-one had attempted by then, raises that level further. If that is not enough, negotiating with Saddam Hussein ( of Iraq) to let go off the Uk citizens in Iraq and then at another point in time suggesting Nelson Mandela to talk to him for avoiding the Iraq war just blows through the roof for me.