A No-Disasters Checklist!
Save this one: forward it to colleagues and your agencyVol. 6, Issue No. 4 | February 22, 2010 By Denny Hatch
IN THE NEWS
'The Checklist Manifesto': a simple, brilliant prescription for getting things right
This is a brilliant book about an idea so simple it sounds dumb until you hear the case for it. Atul Gawande presents an argument so strong that I challenge anyone to go away from this book unconvinced.
"The Checklist Manifesto" is about how to prevent highly trained, specialized workers from making dumb mistakes. Gawande ... is a surgeon, and much of his book is about surgery. But he also talks to a construction manager, a master chef, a venture capitalist and the man at The Boeing Co. who writes checklists for airline pilots.
Commercial pilots have been using checklists for decades. Gawande traces this back to a fly-off at Wright Field, Ohio, in 1935, when the Army Air Force was choosing its new bomber. Boeing's entry, the B-17, would later be built by the thousands, but on that first flight it took off, stalled, crashed and burned. The new airplane was complicated, and the pilot, who was highly experienced, had forgotten a routine step.
—Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times, Jan. 7, 2010
When I read the review of “The Checklist Manifesto” by Dr. Atul Gawande, I ordered it on my Kindle.
Three minutes later I was totally hooked—engrossed in graphic descriptions of hospital emergency rooms where patients’ lives depended on split-second decisions by health care professionals operating as a team and guided by mental checklists. If they ignored a step or failed to communicate, the patient would assume room temperature—forever.
The author’s argument is simple: Checklists in this complex, high-tech world are indispensable.
It occurred to me that some years ago I created a checklist for direct marketers, and that it was currently residing on my Web site, www.dennyhatch.com. Given my newfound interest in checklists, I decided to revisit it. The thing was OK as far as it went, but woefully inadequate. So I reworked it.
I believe the revised and expanded checklist that follows will be useful to the 20- and 30-something newbies entering this business who are handed decision-making authority beyond their experience.
It's also invaluable to us addled seniors, who tend to forget things.
As an old geezer, I've seen some major screwups in my 50+ years in marketing. Two come to mind—both off-the-page ads:
- In the 60s, a full-page ad offering membership in a book club ran in a major weekly magazine at a cost of roughly $20,000. It contained a huge omission: Nowhere in the coupon or in the body of the ad was there an address to which an order could be sent, nor an 800 number.
- In a full-page mail order ad, some nitwit got the idea that a black coupon would be an attention-getter. So the black coupon ran with white type and white lines indicating where name, address, city and state should be filled in. But you can’t write on a black coupon unless you have a pen that dispenses white ink. Duh.
A simple, free checklist would have caught these blunders for which the designer, creative director and account executive of the agency should have been summarily fired.
THE DIRECT MARKETER'S CHECKLIST
1. Does your message employ at least one (preferably several) of the seven key copy drivers—the emotional hot buttons that make people act: Fear - Greed - Guilt - Anger - Exclusivity - Salvation - Flattery?
Takeaways to Consider
- Checklists in this complex, high-tech world are indispensable.
- [Checklists are] about how to prevent highly trained, specialized workers from making dumb mistakes.
—Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times, Jan. 7, 2010
- At Wright Airfield in 1935, a Boeing experimental Model 299—a proposed four-engine bomber—crashed on takeoff, killing two of the five crew members. The pilot had forgotten to unlock the hydraulic elevator and rudder controls. A checklist was created for future flights.
- The test pilots made their list simple, brief and to the point—short enough to fit on an index card, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing and taxiing. It had the kind of stuff that all pilots know to do. ... You wouldn’t think it would make that much difference. But with the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War, enabling its devastating bombing campaign across Germany.
—Atul Gawande, “The Checklist Manifesto"
- Four generations after the first aviation checklists went into use, a lesson is emerging: checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us—flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness. And because they do, they raise wide, unexpected possibilities. But they presumably have limits, as well. So a key step is to identify which kinds of situations checklists can help with and which ones they can’t.
- In a complex environment, experts are up 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 events. (When you’ve got a patient throwing up and an upset family member asking what’s going on, it can be easy to forget that you have not checked her pulse.)
- Faulty memory and distraction are a particular danger in what engineers call all-or-none processes: whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for a takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.
- Checklists seem to provide protection against such failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.