As a University professor of mathematics, mine is a simple job. There's little that's complex or complicated about it. So it would seem that Atul Gawande's new book, the Checklist Manifesto, would have little too offer my professional self. And this is OK, because Dr. Gawande expresses his ideas through anecdote and imagery, making the reading of his essays such a pleasure. This along with my wife's penchant for list-making, drew me to chose this book as the 'listen' for our 1200 mile holiday drive to visit family.
In the book, Dr. Gawande explores the way checklists can affect the handling of complicated and complex tasks by trained professionals. What he learns, through personal investigation and professional involvement with the World Health Organization, is that simple (and thoughtfully constructed) checklists can have a striking impact on the quality and volume of work of a group of professionals. Examples he explores include piloting modern commercial airplanes, managing the construction of a large building, providing rapid-response medical aid, rates of infection in hospital intensive care units, complication rates arising from surgery, and identifying prospect companies for investment by a large investment agency. In each of these cases, he shows how having and using thoughtfully designed (or evolved) checklists reduces errors and increases a group's ability to work as a team.
This latter effect is somewhat surprising and counterintuitive, but it makes a whole lot of sense with Dr. Gawande explaining it. So I'll leave that to him. The book is definitely worth the six hours of listening-time. The hard-copy version is probably a quicker read. As you read the book, I'll be thinking about how these ideas can be used in higher education and in the service of teaching mathematics and the sciences.
Epilogue: Though the book is good, the production of this audio book is uneven.
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