Piloting a plane is sometimes described as hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. When you depend on complex aerodynamic forces to suspend a metal tube in the air at a high velocity, even a minor problem can prove life-threatening. Watch the video below and see if you can guess the cause of this crash, which took the lives of two experienced test pilots.
Post-crash examination of the wreckage revealed that these pilots apparently forgot to unlock the flight controls prior to take-off, a trivial and routine step that would have been completed properly had they simply followed a pre-flight checklist rather than trusting their own experience.
In healthcare,tens of thousands of lives have been savedover just the last few years, as highly intelligent and knowledgeable physicians have had their own expert medical practices buttressed by routine checklists managed by nurses. The use of checklists is a relatively new practice in medicine but, likeevidence-based medicine, it is a practice that we in business would do well to emulate.
In business, we generally don't use checklists. That's probably because, in contrast to aviation or medicine, a stupid or careless business mistake is rarely life-threatening. Everyday, it seems, some business or other suffers from a data or privacy breach threatening its reputation with customers and with the public at large. And experts agree that a simple checklist is an important tool for avoiding a privacy breach in the first place as well as for dealing with it when it occurs.
In aviation there are two different kinds of checklists - the "Do-Confirm" checklist and the "Read-Do checklist." Do-Confirm checklists are for situations that are encountered regularly, but are complex enough that checklists help ensure no important steps (like unlocking the flight controls) are overlooked. Read-Do lists are for situations you might never or rarely encounter, but which can be better managed by using specific processes or procedures that have been thought out in advance.
So now imagine that, rather than depending solely on your wits and creativity each time you had to deal with a tough or unexpected business problem, you could open a checklist of things to do and tasks to be sure not to overlook. You execute a routine marketing alliance with an oil company, say, and acontroversy is suddenly createdby Greenpeace's allegation that your marketing efforts now threaten the arctic. So you pull out a PR do-confirm checklist, to make sure you cover everything you need to cover - notifying the right people, releasing the right kind of statement, changing the ad campaign, etc. Or a social media disaster looms, as one of your own staff mistakenly uses the corporate account fora tasteless political comment. So you pull out a social media read-do checklist, covering each required task and taking steps that someone else has at least thought about in advance.
There's no question that technological change is coming faster, business models are becoming more complex and interconnected, and economic headwinds can blow in on a moment's notice from anywhere in the world. Maybe you ought to think about how using a checklist might actually improve your business's survival chances.