That brings us to the last point about checklists - they DO NOT replace knowledge. An investor interviewed for the book said it best when describing that the checklist is “not a fail safe thing…you still need expertise and insight into the process to be able to ultimately perform each step correctly”. These checklists wouldn’t help me if I didn’t know what I was doing to begin with. Rather than being a “Step by Step to Collecting Data”, people can perform a task however they want and the checklist makes sure that in the end that task was performed correctly.
An example from my own work is the process of creating a new blog post. Although I usually remember the steps of creating the content because it's part of my writing process—writing an outline, doing the research, drafting, and editing—there are plenty of other steps that I can easily forget. Adding images, working through multiple headline options to find the best one, and making sure image credits are correct are all standard tasks that are easy to overlook.
The crux of this problem is while the world around us is becoming more and more complex, we’re still stuck with a brain that hasn’t changed much in 100,000 years. Sure, we’ve figured out ways to off-load memory storage to books and computers so we can know more; we just haven’t figured out a good way to overcome our evolved biases, cognitive flaws, and intrinsic forgetfulness. And so, despite owning a brain brimming with ever more knowledge, we continue to make stupid mistakes.
Concerns have recently been fuelled by the disappointing results after implementation of the checklist in Michigan17 and large-scale mandated implementation in Ontario Canada.5 Interpretations of results are also complicated by reported differences between perceived and actual application of the checklist. In a recent US study, hospital documentation indicated 100% compliance with checklists, but observers found that on average only 4 of 13 checklist items were actually completed.18 Even strong advocates for checklists admit that full implementation of the WHO checklist is difficult and that improvements require more than the checklist, including strong institutional leadership, data collection, and monitoring, and training in teamwork.4 ,14
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