Dec 10 2007

Explicit Behavior

Atul Gawande has an outstanding article in this week’s New Yorker entitled “The Checklist” (full article available) that describes how explicitly defining the steps in complex processes (and then following those steps religiously) significantly reduces errors in certain intensive care procedures. Creating explicit checklists of steps for common ICU procedures resulted in far fewer infections and other complications and an unbelievable amount of money and time saved (not to mention the number of deaths averted). It’s truly mind boggling and a great example of Occam’s Paradox, which I wrote about a few years ago on this blog (for those of you who don’t want to link through, Occam’s Paradox is the idea that while the “challenges we face in life and business [may often be] complex – the solution to those challenges generally are not”). It’s a reminder that in many cases making behavior explicit rather than relying on memory, intuition or guess work ultimately saves time and results in greater accuracy. As the article point out, airplane pilots figured this out a long time ago. Doctors are apparently just waking up to the idea. Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to start thinking about it.