In the 1970’s the philosophers Samual Garovitz and Alasdair Macltyre published a short essay on the nature of human fallibility. The answer they were exploring was why we fail to achieve  something we set out to do in the world. One reason they observed is “necessary fallibility”- some things we want to do are simply beyond our capacity. We are not all power full. Much of the universe is and will remain outside our understanding and control.

But there are substantial areas, however, in which control is within our reach. We can build skyscrapers, predict snowstorm, etc. In such realms we still nonetheless fail, and there are two reasons for such kind of failure.

Some things we want to do are simply beyond our capacity. We are not all power full. Much of the universe is and will remain outside our understanding and control.

First- ignorance – we may make mistakes because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it worked. The second type of failure, the philosopher call ineptitude – in these instances the knowledge exits, yet we fail to apply it correctly. For nearly all throughout history people life is governed by ignorance. This was nowhere clearer than medicine.  But past several decade sciences has filled in enough knowledge to make ineptitude as much our struggle as ignorance.

But now the problems we face is ineptitude or it is aptitude making sure we apply the knowledge we have constantly and correctly. Know how and sophistication have increased remarkably across almost all our realms of endeavor and as a result so has our struggle to deliver on them. Failure of ignorance we can forgive. But if the knowledge of what to do in a given situation does not exits we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exits and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.

One needs practice to achieve mastery – a body of experience before one achieve real success.

For those who do the real work however the judgment seems unfair, everyday there is more and more to be managed and get right and learn. That is why traditional response for failure is not to punish but encourage more experience and training. One needs practice to achieve mastery – a body of experience before one achieve real success.

The capability of an individual is not proving to be our primary difficulty. But failure persist inspite of remarkable individual ability. The reason for this is increasingly evident:  the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely and reliably. Knowledge has both saved and burdened us. That’s means we need a different strategy to overcome failure, one that build on experience and take advantage of knowledge. The answer is CHECKLIST.

In a complex environment, experts are against two main difficulties.

The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention especially when it comes to mundane routine matters that are easily overlooked under the strain of more pressing event. A further difficulty, just as insidious is that people can lull themselves into skipping steps even when they remember them. In complex process after all certain steps do not always matter. Checklist seems to protect us against such failures. They remind of important necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline for higher performance. Checklist seem able to defend anyone, they provide a kind of cognitive net.

They catch mental flows inherent in all of us- flows of memory and attention and thoroughness. But checklist has its own limitation. So, it is important to find out in what kind of situation checklist can help and in which one they cannot.

Simple problems- are like baking a cake from cake mix. Complicated problems are like sending a rocket to the moon. They can be broken down into a set of simple problem. Complex problems are ones like raising a child.

Two professors who study the science of complexity – (Brenda Zimerman and Shdom Glouberman)- have proposed a distinction among three different kind of problems in the world- simple, the complicated, and the complex. Simple problems- are like baking a cake from cake mix. Complicated problems are like sending a rocket to the moon. They can be broken down into a set of simple problem.

The value of checklist in simple problem is self evident. But can they help avert failure when the problems combine everything from simple to complex?  

Complex problems are ones like raising a child. Once you learn how to send a rocket to the moon, you can repeat the process with other rockets and master it but not with raising child. Every child is unique though raising one child may give you experience but does not guarantee success with other child – the outcome remains highly unpredictable. Yet all know that it is certainly possible to raise a child. It is complex that’s all. And question of when to follow one’s judgment and when to follow protocol is central to doing anything which is hard. You want people to make sure to get the stupid staff right. Yet you also want to have place for craft and judgment and ability to respond to unexpected difficulties that raises along the way.

The value of checklist in simple problem is self evident. But can they help avert failure when the problems combine everything from simple to complex?

Checklist cannot be lengthy. A rule of thumb some use is to keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.

When you are making a checklist, you have a number of key decisions to make you must define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used. Checklist cannot be lengthy. A rule of thumb some use is to keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.  However, it all depends on context. In some situation you have only 20 seconds, in others you may have several minutes.

But after about 60 to 90 seconds at a given pause point, the checklist often becomes a distraction from other things. The wording should be simple and exact and use the familiar language. Ideally, it should fit in one page. Besides checklist needs testing in real world situation, one need to study how to make changes and keep testing until the checklist works consistently. It is common to misconceive how checklist functions in complex line of work. They are not comprehensive how to guides, whether for building a skyscraper or getting a plane out of trouble. They are quick and simple tool aimed to increase the skills of expert professional.

Even the expert can gain from searching out the patterns of mistakes and failures and putting a few checks in place. 

Saurav Das

A new age writer from Assam

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