Recommended Reads #1

Right, so I decided to do Recommended Reads posts when I come across books that I think are especially noteworthy (which is of course strictly subjective), because… well, books are cool.

As the first of a numbers of books that have stuck in my mind I would like to mention Atul Gawande’s 2009 book Checklist Manifesto. Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, writer and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. His previously published Better and Complications are also well worth reading, by the way.

In this highly readable book Gawande discusses a wide range of topics linked to the subject of getting thing right, such as  our propensity for different types of error and why we fall prey to them, or finding the sweet spot between specialization and efficiency vs. a generalized skill set. Looking to other industries, – apart from emergency medicine and hospital organizations – for instance to the aviation industry and the crew resource management programs employed there, Gawande illustrates in a very clear and coherent fashion how the behavior of people working under pressure or stress can be optimized by creating clear guidelines to ensure the best possible performance, for instance by defining checklists. This is especially (but by far not only) true of complex systems and procedures.

Many of the points he raises had me vigorously nodding and rang very true, as there were very clear parallels to situations an arborist might find him or herself in their daily work. At one point he even discusses (mis)configuration issues! Yayyy, way to go, Atul! That’s our hobby horse!

OK, so this is not really a review, and I am clearly not doing this book justice in any shape or form… what I am essentially trying to say is that I definitively took a number of points with me after having read the Checklist Manifesto that I found myself applying to my everyday work. Gawande’s level-headed and clear approach to these topics really drives the key points home, even apparently obvious insights, such as that well-conceived structure need not necessarily be restricting, but rather can ensure a higher degree of safety and performance by decluttering your perception, certain issues will automatically be flagged so long as you methodically apply your checklists, this in turn leaves you more space to focus on other matters around you and respond to unforeseen incidents.

Worth reading.