This book by a medical doctor / surgeon was first published in 2009 and not surprisingly has a number of medical related stories in it. But there is much more to it than that and it is extremely relevant to accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

Gawande notes in the introduction that he has spent much time pondering the concept of human fallibility. There are many situations where as humans we seem to have understanding and control of what is to be done and yet we fail. He identifies two reasons for this failure:

  1. Ignorance – perhaps because we have only a partial understanding or knowledge
  2. Ineptitude – because we fail to apply our knowledge correctly

He says:

“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.

That means we need a different strategy for overcoming failure, one that builds on experience and takes advantage of the knowledge people have but somehow also makes up for inevitable human inadequacies. And there is such a strategy – though it will seem almost ridiculous in its simplicity, maybe even crazy to those of us who have spent years carefully developing ever more advanced skills and technologies.

 It is a checklist”

The rest of the book takes us on a journey to show how the idea of checklists came about and how much of a difference it made in the medical and other fields.

He is a doctor so his main focus was on medicine but he takes learnings from many industries, including aviation and construction. He presents a very compelling case for the value of checklists and some insightful commentary on why we are often inclined to ignore them.

I believe checklists are an essential part of a systemised professional firm and this book is a worthwhile read to reinforce how important they can be. As accountants and lawyers you may not have people’s lives in your hands, but you often have their livelihood and mistakes can have significant consequences.

The Checklist Manifesto is an interesting read and one which may give you renewed enthusiasm for implementing a more rigorous implementation of agreed and documented best practice processes in your firm.

The Checklist Manifesto

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