The Art of the Checklist

2 min readMay 18, 2018

When it comes to solving problems or making difficult decisions do not underestimate the power of a simple checklist.

The chances of you dying in an aeroplane crash are extremely rare.

In fact, if you live in the US you are more likely to die strangling yourself in your own bedsheets.

This is because modern aircraft, if properly serviced, are extremely reliable.

The majority of accidents are, in fact, caused by pilot error. Around 80% according to the aircraft manufacturer Boeing (interestingly this was the reverse in the early days of aviation where 80% of accidents were attributable to mechanical failure).

To help mitigate mistakes made by pilots, Cockpit Resource Management was introduced in 1979 by NASA psychologist John Lauber as part of a study to increase overall flight safety. A big part of this was to introduce simple pre-flight checklists.

The TED speaking surgeon Atul Gawande wrote a great book about the role of checklists in massively improving aviation safety and how he adapted this approach to reduce the incidences of surgical errors.

His compelling book The Checklist Manifesto makes the case that experts (anyone experienced at their job regardless of their field) often tend to overlook the obvious or trivial.

Unfortunately, it is precisely these ‘small’ errors that in aviation and surgery can lead to the loss of human life.

Checklists can also be a handy tool for solving problems in your own life. They can help you better understand the problem and its potential solutions.

One tip is make yourself a checklist of impartial questions to ask yourself as a way of examining your own thinking and biases. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Have I looked at both sides to this story in equal measure?
  2. Have any existing prejudices impacted my decision making?
  3. Am I approaching this problem in the same way to other ‘similar’ problems in the past?
  4. Have I done sufficient research to see if someone has solved this problem previously?
  5. How would ‘X’ go about making this decision?

To learn more about the art of problem solving register for our upcoming course ‘How to think like Sherlock’ which is packed full of useful techniques and approaches like the one above.




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