December 18th, 2016

Getting the stupid stuff right!

I usually don’t go for the self improvement genre of books. But when one is handed down to you by a doctor brother from long distance, you’ve got to give it a try. One hot Delhi summer evening I found Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto in my mailbox. With a cover page I would never have picked up from a bookshelf and a tagline I wouldn’t have paid a second thought to, (How to get things right. Really?). As cliched as the book sounds and looks, I confess it turned out to be a page turner, so much so that I stole time away in office from work to read short lengths of it!

Its not that the author’s writing is artful, its just that he creates a mystery around the subject and takes just the right amount of time to unravel it. Humans are imperfect, and they have a hard time accepting and acknowledging that. A one-off coup is what they are mostly capable of, but where they lack perfection is in the consistency to perform repetitive duties. And the remedy for getting those mundane tasks right, argues the author, is a checklist. Who would have thought a thing as simple as a checklist could be of such vital importance under varied circumstances, and could take such a laborious effort to arrive at. The author admiringly illustrates the effective use of checklists in a variety of professional fields including culinary, construction, finance, and of course the leader of them all, Aviation. By the end of the book he has taken readers through the journey of its introduction into the field of medical surgery as well. With a good amount fascinating events and stories thrown in between occasional theoretical outbursts, the book made me look into my own profession to see if checklists exist or could work. But is there really such a thing as a design checklist?

Sure, we do have our own set of ‘emergencies’; though they may not be as critical as in medicine or aviation since the harm is mostly to ourselves! (the worst is that we will lose a commission, and hence starve!) But the closest i can think that we come to a checklist, is our MOMs (Minutes of Meeting) which is the thing we stick to when working and re-working and re-working on a design. Though, I am sure there is a lot we can do to organize ourselves before important presentations, because we are almost perennially scurrying around against time to get things in order, and are bound to make obvious mistakes. Perhaps I will take a leaf out of this book to see if I can institute a checklist to get the stupid stuff right in Architecture.

Abdul Bari
Architect, also lazy intellectual trying to avoid writing a conference paper by digging out old writings and reposting them.