The Power of Checklists OR I Don’t Care How Many Years You Went to School, You Still Have to Follow the Process

A few years ago when I was meeting with the head of compliance for a large bank. I know you’re thinking, “This is going to be fascinating.” But surprisingly it was.

Compliance is in many ways the quality assurance function of a bank. At big companies, making sure that things are done correctly is brutally difficult. The temptation is to demand that everyone double check everything and focus on each piece of work to make sure it’s right. And that’s what was happening here.

However, what you find out is that people aren’t very good at focusing on “everything” — especially the smart people who are really good at doing the hard stuff. Smart people aren’t very good at doing the boring stuff. That’s why they’re really smart people. They want to be challenged. So her team was good at doing the complicated things but missed quite a few boring times that people overlooked.

So what should she do? I immediately thought that she should split up the mundane work from the actually difficult work and mentioned The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. I asked her if she’d ever heard of the book. With a flourish, she opens up a cabinet with a pile of books and says I give this book to everyone. Read more about the book and the manifesto in this post.

Bonus Trivia: The Checklist Manifesto is one of Jack Dorsey’s favorite books. At Square, it’s referred to as The Big Red  Book.