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From the publicity blurb for “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande: “The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail.”

This reminded me of another story I read, and I cannot recall where (possibly Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins). It was about a young girl who told her Dad that ‘life’ in her world was so muddled. In seeking an explanation he set out her desk, everything nicely and accurately put in its place. “How is that?” he said. “Fine,” she replied.

He moved a pencil. “Now?” “It’s all muddled!” she responded. He replaced the pencil and moved an eraser. “And now?” “It’s all messy!” she wailed.

“I see the problem,” he patiently explained. “You have one way for everything to be perfect, and hundreds of ways for it to be wrong.”

Is this the case where you are? Has the purpose of your work now become secondary to the process – one of my favourite observations about modern policing and the criminal justice system is that it is all “Process at the expense of Purpose.”

Not only have we learned how to burrow down until each separate task can be quantified and assessed, we now find that we MUST do so – and hold accountable everyone below us in a hierarchy. You see, I’ve also noticed that this accountability rarely reads as quickly upwards as it does down. So when something goes wrong, the investigation focuses upon finding that one thing that wasn’t done right – in among the possibly hundreds that were – and hits the malefactor over the head with it. Like that child.